March 12, 2009
DEC chief: License fee increases are inevitable
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By Bill Conners
The message: Additional revenues are needed. The messenger: Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis.
In a meeting Monday afternoon with outdoors writers from across the state, the commissioner confirmed again that the Conservation Fund is millions of dollars in the red and that license fee increases are inevitable.
While the commissioner was meeting with the writers on the 14th floor of DEC headquarters - 625 Broadway in downtown Albany - the Conservation Fund Advisory Board was meeting on the 5th floor. One of the issues on the board's monthly agenda was how much of an increase is needed to get the fund operating in the black again and how long will it keep it there.
Early this year, Gov. David Paterson announced that the Reynolds Game Farm was going to be closed, and that there were no plans to continue with a pheasant stocking program. Because there is very little natural propagation, pheasant hunting here in New York would have been all but eliminated, except on hunting preserves.
The commissioner noted that in retrospect the governor's announcement could have been handled better, but that there was a silver lining of sorts that has come out of it. Grannis said: "The sportsmen have come alive and are letting us know what it is they want."
While the governor may have backed off from the decision to close the farm, the commissioner made it clear that it is just for the next year, "pending the development of alternative revenue sources." The stakeholders will have to work with the DEC to decide what those sources will be.
Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Division Director Patricia Riexinger said that there will be a new requirement for a salt water fishing license for the marine district and when fishing the Hudson River for migratory species such as striped bass. When fishing for non-migratory species, a fresh water fishing license will be required. This marks the fist time that a license has been required for recreational anglers on the Hudson.
Currently, there is no way to know how many anglers are using the marine district or the Hudson River because there is no license requirement. Migratory fish stocks are monitored by federal agencies.
If the state does not impose a license requirement, the feds will impose one and most likely keep the revenue. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission monitors migratory fish stocks and the impacts that commercial and recreational anglers have on them - a difficult task, given the fact that in New York no salt water license is required. Riexinger said that the revenues from salt water license sales will be used in the marine account and in support of marine fisheries programs.
Jeremy Hurst, the DEC's big game biologist, said that there seems be a growing interest in antler restrictions. "There is no biological need for the restrictions, but there is a social interest," he said. Many deer hunters would like to be able to hunt deer with heavy, well-formed antlers.
There has been a antler restriction pilot program going on in four Catskills Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) for a few years and Hurst said there are a number of areas where interest seems to be growing.
Because there is no biological need, the DEC has taken the position that the imposition of restrictions must be entirely voluntary. A survey was conducted in WMUs 3A, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S, 4W and 4X, which produced a mixed result.
Before the program can be implemented, a survey must show that at least 67 percent of the hunters in an area must be generally in favor of the program and no more than 20 percent are strongly opposed. The most recent survey in the areas above produced a mixed result and came in at about 95 percent of the required thresholds, but no clear mandate emerged. Hurst said that the DEC will continue to evaluate hunter attitudes in those areas.
Grannis reported that budget cuts will take their toll on staffing. The DEC anticipates that 240 people will leave the DEC this year via normal attrition either through retirements or people leaving state government for other jobs. Those positions will be left vacant, including 40 that are anticipated in the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.
The DEC also plans to make changes to the Wildlife Management Areas around the state - in some cases consolidating them, redoing lines in others to make them easier for hunters to understand.
A lot of what is going on by way of program and planning within the DEC is dependent on the anticipated license fee increases. They might be the heaviest we've seen in recent times. The last across-the-board fee increase was in 1992. The fees the Conservation Fund Advisory Board are recommending right now would bring additional revenue to the fund of about $14.762 million. A basic resident hunting or fishing license would go from $19 to $29 each. A Super Sportsman would go from $68 to $88. Turkey permits will cost $10, up from the current $5.
As of the meeting with the commissioner, no final decision has been made on the new fee structure.