Conservation Fund top Summit priority

By Don LehmanContributing Writer

Albany – The state’s largest conservation organizations banded
together late last month to call for legislative changes that would
address dwindling revenue to the state Conservation Fund, crack
down on poachers and protect the state’s panfish populations.

Calling their meetings late last year and earlier this year a
‘summit’ on sportsmen-related issues, the Conservation Alliance of
New York, New York State Conservation Council, New York State
Conservation Fund Advisory Board and state Fish and Wildlife
Management Board called for state ‘action to protect the integrity
of the Conservation Fund.’

Members of the summit organizations identified three priorities
for the 2007 state legislative session, the largest of which is the
annual need to try to better balance the Conservation Fund.

The fund’s revenue is derived mainly from license fees and the
fines and penalties paid by those who break the Conservation
Law.

Revenue to the fund has held fairly steady in recent years, but
costs have risen to the point it is facing a $7 million deficit.
The fund pays for programs like fish and wildlife hatcheries and
stocking efforts, but also pays the salaries of more than 400
employees of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s
Bureau of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.

The groups called for state leaders to change laws to allow
youths to hunt game, a proposal that has been made annually for
years but been shot down by legislators. New York is the only state
in the nation that does not allow teens under 16 hunt big game.

Attracting younger hunters is seen as vital to counteracting
dropping hunter numbers, said David Miller, president of the
Conservation Alliance.

‘If you get the youth started earlier, there’s a better chance
they’ll stay with it later in life,’ he said. ‘Long-term, that is
something that will help the Conservation Fund.’

The groups also asked state leaders to stiffen fines and
penalties paid by poachers. New York’s penalty system has long been
seen as lenient on those who break hunting and fishing laws,
particularly those who fish without a license or break other
fishing regulations. The penalties, which include fines as low as
$25 for some violations, are seen as little deterrent to those who
violate the law.

The group also said they plan to lobby for law changes that will
prohibit the sale of angler-caught panfish, arguing that
overfishing of these populations strips state waters of the fish
that ‘have provided our young anglers great opportunity to learn
about fishing.’

Harold Palmer, president of the Conservation Council, said in a
news release that 2001 license fee hikes were supported by
sportsmen and viewed as a help to the fund and fish and wildlife
resources. But it has become apparent more help is needed.

‘It is clear more must now be done to ensure those expected
results,’ he wrote.

Miller said the groups decided to voice their concerns in late
February to let legislators and sportsmen know what they had
identified as the most important issues.

‘I think everyone at the summit agreed it was time for sportsmen
to know what was going on and what we had agreed on as some
priority items,’ he said.

Miller said a proposal floated late last year that would result
in a small surcharge on sales of outdoors-related goods to help
balance the Conservation Fund is still being discussed.

The summit members have invited members of other conservation
groups in New York to contact them to discuss how they can help
promote the proposals and other ideas to help the Conservation
Fund.

The groups’ leaders can be reached through their Web sites, at
www.canyus.org and www.nyscc.com.

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