During the 2011 seasons there were 26 personal injury hunting-related incidents, including four fatalities. All the fatalities occurred during the regular deer season, and one was self-inflicted.
The number of hunters has declined some 20 percent since the 1960s but in that same time frame the accident rate has actually declined more than 70 percent, due in large part to the dedicated efforts of 3,000 volunteer Sportsmen Education Instructors who offer free but mandatory hunter safety courses for all first-time hunters seeking their first hunting license.
Course attendees must receive a passing grade before they are issued a certificate that permits them to purchase their first license.
Back in July I mentioned the potential loss of up to $20 million in Wallop-Breaux, Pittman-Robinson and Dingell-Johnson funding due to the actions of our governor and Legislature.
To refresh your memory, these funds are derived from excise taxes we all pay on sporting equipment such as firearms, ammo, archery gear, fishing tackle etc. These funds are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are returned to the states through a formula that depends upon how many fishing and hunting licenses are sold in each state and how much each state contributed through those excise taxes.
Funds collected through these various programs are to be specifically dedicated to wildlife restoration and other appropriate, similar programs administered through the Conservation Fund. In other words, the money, in effect, goes back to the people who paid the taxes on the aforementioned items.
NO OTHER USES
These funds are not to be used for infrastructure repairs, paying debt, balancing the state budget or building up the General Fund. Now, that’s where the problem lies.
Governor Andrew Cuomo decided, in his 2011-2012 budget, that the Division of the Budget could tap into this fund, as well as other dedicated funds, to balance the books if necessary.
However, in the 2012-13 Executive Budget, the governor has language that appears to protect the Conservation Fund from being swept away to balance the budget and which might not jeopardize the $20 million in federal aid New York state receives annually to assist DEC with its wildlife and fish programs.
MUST BE PROTECTED
What concerned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the fact that the Division of the Budget could tap into the Conservation Fund whenever they deemed it advisable, even if they never did it. Just because the budget allows it doesn’t mean it will happen, but it might have, and that bore close scrutiny.
At the time, the State of New York had to make some hard decisions and convince the F&WS the Conservation Fund would never be used for anything other than its intended purpose and would not be used for General Fund balancing.
It now at least appears the governor has done so, provided the F&WS satisfied with the response.
GETTING AROUND IT
However, there may be a clinker in all that anyway, since environmental conservation officers are being offloaded from the General Fund to the Conservation Fund at a prodigious rate.
That saves the General Fund a considerable amount of money, but many of those ECOs will be performing duties that do not fall within the purview of fish and game. The Conservation Fund should not support their salaries, especially when the fund, and the agency, are unable to fill various vacancies that currently exist within the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.
The Conservation Fund Advisory Board is justifiably concerned that the level of services provided sportsmen through their license fees has decreased despite the significant fee increase instituted several years ago.
The DEC has begun a study of the spruce grouse, an endangered and protected species of bird found only in a few limited areas in the northern Adirondacks. The habitat in which it thrives is important to conserving New York’s biodiversity and unique character.
The study is intended to gather additional information about this unique bird, a larger cousin to our ruffed grouse, and to hopefully develop a plan to increase its numbers.
We’re in the midst of a 30-day public comment period on this study. If you have any suggestions or questions you should send them to John Ozard, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany NY 12233-4754 or call (518) 402-8881. The public comment period ends March 1.