Budget cuts will hit conservation projects hard

No one needs to be reminded that we’re in the midst of some tough economic times. Unemployment hovers around double-digit levels, families struggle to pay their bills, taxes keep rising while services erode. Overspending by our state and federal government has finally hit the proverbial wall and now they must do what they’ve been preaching to us during this major recession …tighten their belt. Noble intentions maybe, but what gets cut and what stays the same? Unfortunately I suspect many of our natural resource and conservation management programs will again see the budget ax fall on them

Here in New York it will no doubt be the squeakiest wheels that avoid seeing the budget knife strike, nationally also. Some of the least squeaky are the various conservation programs under the Department of Environmental Conservation huge bureaucratic umbrella. Some of these involve management of our fish, wildlife, forests and habitat. Faced with a steadily expanding responsibility to monitor natural gas drilling and mining, the DEC must balance this budget and personnel draining operation with all the other programs and projects that fall under its many mandates. And given the scope of the natural gas land rush, where do you think its priorities will lie?

Going back several years, the NYS Conservation Fund has been steadily seeing its funds shrinking, and money from the General Fund that paid the salaries and benefits of hundreds of staff in the DEC was cut, early retirements were offered, and those jobs were not filled. However. Many of the duties of those retired employees were then assigned to staff paid out of the Conservation Fund. Despite license and fee increases, lowering the hunting age, and a windfall of Lifetime licenses being sold prior to the license increase date last year, there’s little doubt the Fund will continue to shrink. Now throw in the current deficit of the General Fund and the growing responsibilities of the Division of Mineral Resources in overseeing natural gas operations, and DEC’s plate will be overflowing.

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