With the Department of Environmental Conservation's recent posting of the steadily declining annual hunting and fishing license sales came a not-so-subtle wake-up call for all people who use and enjoy the New York outdoors. Who's going to foot the annual bill for maintaining and conserving these natural resources?
For many years, income generated by these licenses, fees and the special taxes on hunting and fishing gear purchases generated sufficient money via the NYS Conservation Fund to fund the majority of the DEC's natural resource divisions and programs. However, this year the Conservation Fund is being projected to experience a $7M to $10M shortfall, and as license sales and hunter-fisher participation in the state continues to decline, it will only get worse.
As reported in last week's column, one of the biggest weaknesses of the DEC since its formation in 1970 has been the steady succession of appointed commissioners, all of whom have had little or no experience in natural resources management or values, both in financial as well as recreational terms. The focus of the DEC has been almost entirely on environmental rather than conservation. In some cases where natural resources were involved it's leaned toward preservation more than conservation. Case in point are the "forever wild" areas of the state forests and park lands.
The old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" no longer applies the current structure and operation of the DEC. Major changes in the state's demographics and social personalities have occurred over the past four decades which have not been reflected in how the department operates. It should no longer throw conservation and environmental policies, funding and programs into the same mixing pot because it just isn't working effectively any more. Using basically many of the same programs and personnel to do both environmental and natural resource conservation projects may seem the most economical approach, but in reality it results in one failing to get the attention it requires. In this case it's our natural resources, which have seen increasingly less prioritizing being placed on them as environmental issues have dominated.