Despite DEC ruling, AR backers push on

Grahamsville, N.Y. – Antler restriction supporters, stunned by
DEC’s decision to scrap a plan to expand those regulations into
more wildlife management units, say they’ll continue their efforts
to have three-points-a-side regulations enacted.

“This decision has strengthened the group’s resolve, and we will
push forward with modernizing deer management practices such as
protecting yearling bucks wherever it is supported,”_said David
Hartman, a spokesman for a five-county coalition of sportsmen
backing the proposal in southeastern New York.

“We will take whatever steps necessary for the sportsmen’s voice
to be heard.”

Hartman said antler restriction advocates were shocked when
DEC_Commissioner Pete Grannis last month announced a proposal to
add the regulations in eight additional units – WMUs 3A, 4G, 40,
4P, 4R, 4S, 4W and 4X – was being scrapped.

“Over the last two years the coalition completed all steps
required by the DEC to implement antler restrictions in the new
areas,” he said. “It is surprising that a process used in two
previous counties was deemed inappropriate for the current
proposal.”

Hartman said hunter support for antler restrictions is clear,
with 67 percent of the hunters favoring antler restrictions.

DEC officials, however, earlier this year set a pair of
benchmarks for putting antler restrictions in place in the
additional WMUs. More than two-thirds support was needed, but if
more than 20 percent voiced strong opposition, the proposal would
be dropped.

“DEC definitely changed the rules as we went along,” Hartman
said. “I have no idea how we didn’t get this approved. It was an
arbitrary decision against the sportsmen.”

Grannis, in a letter to the Conservation Fund Advisory Board
outlining the decision, said, “it is apparent that most people on
either side of this issue have very strongly held opinions.”

He added that DEC’s decision not to go forward with antler
restrictions in the additional units was largely based on that fact
that department biologists “see no specific management benefit
associated with the antler restriction program and do not consider
antler restrictions as necessary to improve herd condition.”

Grannis called the issue one of hunter preference, and said
hunters are “deeply divided” on the issue. He also noted that
antler restriction supporters may practice that on a voluntary,
self-imposed basis.

But antler restriction supporters say DEC broke an agreement
with them after they showed enough support to move forward with the
regulations.

“The counties diligently completed all steps and the DEC
breached the agreement, ignoring the wishes of the super majority
of sportsmen,” said Les Armstrong, a member of the Greene County
Federation of Sportsmen and the New York State Conservation
Council’s big game committee.

David Wood, president of the Schoharie Conservation Council,
said DEC “refuses to listen to the majority of hunters and improve
the hunting, but wants us to pay more,” noting the license fee
increase set to take effect this fall.

“Supporters outnumbered opponents, so apparently by DEC’s logic,
the minority rules,”_added Jay Martin, big game chairman for the
Ulster County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

And Charlie Fiscella, president of the New York State Chapter of
the Quality Deer Management Association, contended that DEC
“continues to advocate outdated (deer) management techniques.”

One county sportsmen’s federation – Delaware – did take a formal
stance against the proposal.

“We know that we need to help to educate the rest of the hunting
population as to the know facts about (antler restrictions),” said
Dan Owen, the Delaware federation’s representative to the New York
State Conservation Council. “The fact is we still have a large
pilot area with restrictions for continued studies. Those areas
will help us arrive at an educated decision on where sportsmen
should go with this issue in the future. For now we have the
freedom to choose.”

Similar antler restrictions are already in place in WMUs 3C, 3H,
3J and 3K, and have been met with a similar mix of support and
opposition.

Support for antler restrictions has seemingly been strong – and
perhaps growing – in the Catskills and surrounding areas of
southeastern New York. But DEC earlier this year indicated it would
expand the antler restriction zone only if “strong opposition”
didn’t top 20 percent.

DEC_Chief Wildlife Biologist John Major said the proposal was
withdrawn in its entirety because under DEC’s rulemaking
procedures, any altered proposal would have to be redrafted and a
public comment period would then start again. Given the tight
deadline for publication in the 2009-10 hunting regulations guide,
that wasn’t possible.

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