Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

FWMR director inheriting red Fund

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany – DEC’s new director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine
Resources is a longtime department wildlife biologist who’s best
known for her work in biodiversity conservation.

She’s also the first woman ever to hold the fish and wildlife
director’s job.

Patricia Riexinger, a western New York native who comes from a
hunting family, was appointed to the $105,000-a-year position to
replace the retiring Gerald Barnhart.

She inherits a department grappling with several issues, not the
least of which is a deficit-laden Conservation Fund, which is
driven largely by hunting license fees.

‘Obviously, the first challenge is the limitations on the
Conservation Fund itself, and finding out what I can do to solve
that,’ Riexinger said. ‘People’s interest in what we do is waning,
just as people’s interest in the natural world is waning.’

Riexinger’s appointment will likely be met with skepticism by
some sportsmen, since much of her DEC career has been spent in
wetlands and habitat work. But she says she comes from a hunting
family and plans on working to protect that tradition.

DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, in making the appointment of the
53-year-old Riexinger, said she ‘has repeatedly demonstrated her
commitment to improving and protecting many of our state’s most
precious habitats. Her vast knowledge and expertise will be a
tremendous asset as we continue to address the challenges facing
our native species and ecosystems, promote the excellent hunting
and fishing available in New York, and seek new opportunities to
build upon our successes.’

Riexinger will also have to grapple with an aging and declining
hunting population whose growth is stalled by the most restrictive
youth hunting regulations in the nation; an influx of invasive
species into New York that now includes the dreaded didymo algae;
and Chronic Wasting Disease, which continues to be monitored in New
York whitetails.

‘Obviously, I still have a lot to learn in terms of what we
have,’ she said. ‘But I’m very interested in the sportsmen’s
summit. I think it’s important to get the sportsmen to identify as
much as possible common interests and to work collectively.’

Riexinger began her career in DEC’s Waterfowl Unit, and then
spent four years as the reptile and amphibian specialist in the
Endangered Species Unit. In 1983, she became the division’s
freshwater wetlands program manager. She assisted with the National
Governor’s Association Wetlands Policy and the White House
Interagency Wetlands Policy initiatives, securing and administering
more than $1 million in federal wetlands grants to support research
and management projects, and preparing the state Wetland
Conservation Plan, for which she received national recognition.

For the last six years, Riexinger has also served as section
head for the division’s Landscape Conservation Section, where she
has overseen the watershed conservation; freshwater wetlands; Wild,
Scenic and Recreational Rivers; and aquatic habitat protection
programs.

She received a Bachelor of Science in wildlife biology from
Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, and a
Masters of Science in biodiversity, conservation and policy from
the University at Albany. She has also taken graduate-level courses
from the Rockefeller College of Public Administration.

She is an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast and in the past
has hunted – harvesting a deer and waterfowl. But she says time
constraints have made that difficult to pursue, although her son
hunts and daughter fishes. Her family has a hunting camp in
Cattaraugus County.

‘I’m excited about personally reconnecting with our sporting
public – the roots of our fish and wildlife program. I also look
forward to working with many partners and colleagues on ensuring
the long-term viability of this state’s amazing biodiversity,’ she
said. ‘Part of that will entail good, sound science, as well as
working more closely with landowners to make wise decisions about
the land. Without habitat and a clean environment, our fish and
wildlife resource will be jeopardized, regardless of the other
programs we have in place.’

Riexinger has a tough act to follow: Barnhart was well-versed on
a wide range of fish and wildlife management issues, and during his
tenure he restored DEC’s deer management system, protected and
enhanced New York’s world-class fisheries, established an automated
licensing system, and maintained one of the nation’s best hunter
safety records.

‘Gerry was a valuable, dedicated leader and the department will
continue to build upon the initiatives that he helped to
establish,’ Grannis said.

The Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources is comprised
of the bureaus of Fisheries, Wildlife, Habitat, Marine Resources,
and Fish & Wildlife Services. While headquartered in DEC’s
office in Albany, the division staff is spread throughout the state
in DEC’s regional offices, and a variety of field stations and fish
hatcheries.

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