Last week in this column I explained how through new language in the stateís 2011 budget, dollars earmarked for outdoor sports programs, could be pulled into the general fund to help reduce the deficit. Call it what you like, "a raid" is my terminology.
Ceding to an angry Conservation Fund Advisory Board (which oversees the use of this money), the language was changed in the 2012 governorís budget. However, as of this writing, this has not been officially accepted by the US Fish and Wildlife Agency. They are the ones that collect the excise tax money on hunting and fishing gear, then distribute it to the NYS Conservation Fund for use in fish and wildlife programs. For the current year it amounts to about $21 million. No small change!
While nothing in Albany is without maneuvering, so holds true for the Conservation Fund. The latest "shell game" involves several moves. First, in December, the governorís office moved 20 environmental conservation officers from the general fund into the conservation fund. Thus, their pay would come from sportsmen's monies, not from the general public. Secondly, in January, the governorís budget proposal contained an additional shift of 65 ECOs. This, in effect, would free up millions of dollars from the general fund to be used to close the deficit, while depleting the conservation fund of money that is supposed to be used for outdoor programs, That includes the stocking of fish, paying for fish and wildlife staff, and a host of other activities paid for by, you guessed it...hunters, fishermen and trappers.
How much will they gut from the conservation fund? Well, initial figures from the governorís office say $2.3 million in the shuffle. Add to this more than $2 million in annual lost revenue from the repeal of the Salt Water Fishing License, and anyone can see that programs will need to be cut.
Another burning issue is that current staffing levels in the DFWMR are at 349, down from 412 in August 2009 (last license increase year). Again, the salary for these staff members comes from the conservation fund. In early 2009, the state made a deal with sportsmen. If they would accept the license increase, the state would maintain programs and staffing at current (2009 levels). I know, and I was the legislative representative for Safari Club International A-C chapter during these negotiations. However, as figures show, we were taken and present staff is down by 63, many of whom were biologists and scientists.