The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) statement that the Conservation Fund that supports the vast majority of fish, wildlife, marine resources and habitat programs in the state is millions of dollars in deficit is true. The DEC also says that an across-the-board license increase must be implemented to keep programs from being drastically cut or eliminated. Admittedly, the last sporting license fee increase in New York was in 2002. In the intervening years since that increase, the number of licenses sold annually has dropped and administrative costs have risen. So it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why such a deficit exists, at least on paper.
Faced with the threat of either paying up or seeing programs slashed, the NYS Conservation Council (NYSCC) has basically agreed that fee increases were needed. However, the NYS Conservation Fund Advisory Board (CFAB) has recently taken a stand against any fee increases until other stakeholders that use and benefit from our natural resources pay an excise tax on their outdoor equipment and services, just as sportsmen have been doing for years. This along with a new saltwater fishing license that is going to be made mandatory by the feds and may result in the state creating its own could certainly add millions to the Fund and keep programs afloat. On the surface, this may seem to be the remedy, but is it really?
Fishing in Lake Ontario and its main tributaries generates nearly $200M in annual revenues. Statewide, a Cornell study found that statewide freshwater fishing generated an economic impact of $3.6B annually. Hunting and trapping generates another $1.1B. And the Department of the Interior has said that $740.9M in excise taxes will be distributed this year to the fish and wildlife agencies of the 50 states to fund fish and wildlife conservation.