Pheasant farm plan moving, but slowly

But the shutdown of the Reynolds Game Farm in Tompkins County
isn’t moving at a lightning quick pace.

The 9,300 remaining birds – the farm’s brood stock – were still
at the facility earlier this month, and DEC officials said it could
be several weeks before they are sent to game processors and then
distributed to food banks in the Southern Tier.

“No birds have been moved,” DEC_Assistant Director of Fish,
Wildlife and Marine Resources Doug Stang said. “Under state
procurement procedures, the processing of the birds has to go out
for bid, and a bid has to be approved. But arrangements continue
for the pheasants’ disposal.”

Stang said he doesn’t see much hope that Gov. David Paterson
will reverse his executive order – the pheasant farm closure is not
part of his 2009 budget – and keep the facility open, despite
protests from the state’s hunters.

“There’s a sliver of hope in the sense that this has certainly
raised the ire of quite a few folks in New York state, and there’s
been quite a bit of reaction in the form of a letter-writing
campaign and calls to the governor’s office,” Stang said.

Paterson ordered the closure of the pheasant farm, citing the
state’s fiscal crisis that includes a $13-plus billion dollar
deficit. In a prepared statement announcing the move, his office
estimated savings at $750,000.

But no staff positions are being lost as a result of the
shutdown; those employees are being shifted within DEC to fill
existing vacancies. That brings the savings closer to $320,000. The
state, however, may ultimately sell the property – assessed at
about $630,000 – to Cornell University, which has long been
interested in acquiring the 164-acre tract.

Many sportsmen and women noted that the pheasant farm is funded
entirely through the state’s Conservation Fund, which is a
combination of license revenues and federal dollars.

“But the Conservation Fund is part of the New York state
budget,”_Stang said, “so any savings would accrue to the state
budget and be reflected there.”

The state couldn’t release the remaining birds from the facility
for hunting since their wings were clipped to prevent them from
flying. The game farm doesn’t put a cover on its pens during the
winter, since the weight of the snow would collapse them. The birds
wouldn’t be able to fly until next summer after moulting.

Stang said DEC officials lobbied the governor’s office to spare
the program prior to the decision being made. “But once the
decision is made, since our agency is part of the executive branch
of the government, we have to abide by it. It would be
insubordination to do otherwise; we work for the governor,” he
said.

He added that there are no current plans to buy pheasants from
private breeders next year for stocking that would continue to
offer hunting opportunities.

“We’re still somewhat reeling from the decision,” Stang said.
“At some point – probably after this is done – we’ll probably sit
down and say, ‘where do we go from here?’ But if you buy birds from
private facilities, then there’s no savings.”

It’s possible that state lawmakers – many of whom oppose the
governor’s decision to shut down the pheasant farm – could earmark
funds in the state budget to be used to purchase pheasants for
stocking.

The Reynolds Farm has been in operation since 1927, and since
1999 has been the sole facility supporting the statewide pheasant
program. Over 31,000 adult pheasants were raised for release in
2008, while another 15,160 birds were reared through the Young
Pheasant Release Program and 57,726 day-old chicks were funneled to
cooperators through the Day-Old Chick Program.

In 2006-07, about 60,000 hunters killed 130,000 pheasants
statewide.

New York had seven farms in the 1970s. The Ithaca facility is
the last remaining after the White farm in western New York farm
was closed in 1999 to save money.

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