License proposal leaves many questions

Bill HiltsWhen I received the press release from the state announcing the most recent license fee proposal package, my first reaction was that this was a bone that the governor would be tossing sportsmen. I could see the governor saying that even though he violated our Second Amendment rights, he still supports hunting and fishing. It was outdoor writer Bill Conners at the World Fishing and Outdoor Expo in Suffern in early March who came up with the suggestion of something a bit further.

“He’s tossing a bone to the hunting and fishing community, but not to all of the guns owners,” he said to me at my booth to promote Fish Niagara. It made sense – divide and conquer. Try to appease the sportsmen and ease the pain of the first attack in January. Let them pay less for a hunting or fishing license. I hope sportsmen and women are smarter than that.

The idea for the license fee structure change was to simplify the variety of tags that are available. Reduce the costs, especially for nonresidents, and tweak the license year a bit. A hunting license year would start on Sept. 1; a fishing license year would start from the time you purchased your annual license. And while the governor is being so tourism-friendly, the reduced fees would not impact the Conservation Fund. They stated that the Conservation Fund would be solvent for at least five years at the current level of spending. That’s where it starts to get tricky and the political games weave their mystical web. You don’t know what to believe.

For starters, thanks to the Office of Management and Budget, DEC has not been able to spend its money for the fish and wildlife programs that were budgeted for. Right now, they sit at better than $50 million in the black. Everything suffers. Even projects that do not have Conservation Fund money but involve dedicated funds that must be used for specific purposes like a Great Lakes Fishing brochure – the money is put on hold, and we miss another tourism season of promotion at the trade shows. Yes, the state is tourism friendly, all right.

If they wanted to be tourism-friendly, they would be fixing one of the biggest problems, such as buying a fishing license. Unlike many states like Florida, you can’t call on the phone, give a credit card and receive a number in return to start fishing immediately. License-issuing agents are inconsistent. Some county clerks sell them, some don’t. Walmarts seem to depend on how busy they are. Computers are down constantly. There’s no consistency to the locations across the state. In Lewiston, the main entry point to the Lower Niagara River – one of the finest winter trout fisheries in the world – the only place you can buy a license is at the Village of Lewiston offices. It is open only during normal business hours during the week. They do a great job, but only when they are open. You can’t buy a license on the weekend. Internet connections and wireless services are weak throughout the village, so that’s not a good option, either. Most people abandon the thought of “spur of the moment” fishing if getting a license is too difficult.

And if the state was really tourism-friendly, they would be looking at what they are charging nonresident small game hunters in the new proposal. Yes, they combined the small and big game licenses together and the combination is a good deal. But if you are coming in to hunt ducks, geese, grouse or turkey, the base license is now in excess of $100. The guides who take those people hunting will lose even more business – just like the last time when it went from $50 to $85.

As part of the package, they would make permanent the free marine fishing license. In other words, my license money will now continue to support the “free” licenses for the marine district and continue to help support the marine programs for fisheries management. Are you telling me that the ocean anglers can’t afford a $5 or $10 license to help offset the costs for the “free” license (nothing is free) and the marine programs – which would also allow the state to qualify for additional excise tax money? I paid $4.30 a gallon for gas at the Suffern show yesterday. Let’s be realistic about all this.

My final concern (for this blog anyway) deals with the resource. If the state makes it such a good deal for hunting and fishing in the name of tourism, what will the impact be for the natural resources? Did anyone consider that in this proposal? And what will the quality be? The big concern deals with the Southern Tier counties that offer public land for big game hunting. Will there be a huge influx from neighboring states that will leave little or no economic impact but capitalize on the resource? Will the quality of the hunt be affected? Time will tell. At least for this proposal, there were public hearings – unlike the SAFE Act debacle. That said, it appears they are only going through the motions.

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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