Who will be the new stewards of our wildlife?

With the New York Conservation Fund (CF) now running in deficit, attributed by most to the steadily declining hunting, fishing and trapping license sales and escalating department costs, it would seem that an across-the-board license fee increase is looming on the not-so-distant horizon. The primary source of income to the CF is from the sale of licenses, and with fewer people buying licenses while more non-license users make use of public lands and waters, one can only wonder where we're headed.

The CF expenditures went up to $52 million in 06-07, primarily due to law enforcement salary increases (ALES), DECALS and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) surveillance. The decreases in CF income from shrinking license sales has see the deficit grow even more for fiscal year '07-08. Now, $52M is a lot of money, but it pales in the shadow of the DEC's huge total budget and responsibilities.

The DEC has an annual budget of approximately $1.1B and employs about 3,500 people across the state. It manages over 4 million acres of protected state-owned land (including all Forest Preserve holdings in the Adirondack and Catskill parks) and another 690,000 acres of privately-owned land on which it holds conservation easements. The department's activities go beyond land management and environmental enforcement to include the publication of a magazine and a state bird atlas, and the operation of three major ski areas.

Since its birth in 1970-71, a revamping and expansion of its predecessor, the NYS Conservation Department, the insertion of "Environmental" in its title should have been a harbinger of what was to come. The old department's primary responsibility was the management of the state's fish, wildlife and forests. So when the new department's scope was suddenly expanded to basically cover "all things environmental," the accompanying responsibilities of the agency exploded, as did its need for more personnel and funding.

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