DEC's press policy an unnecessary barrier

Bill HiltsIf you're an outdoor writer or an avid reader of NYON, you already know we must rely strictly on press releases or go directly to Albany – through the DEC press office – if you want any information on fish and wildlife in the state. The information you receive is very basic, not in-depth as to what’s actually going on in the great outdoors. The writing pieces suffer and, as a result, the public suffers. This is problem that we are currently experiencing.

In a recent interview I read with DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, he took responsibility for instituting the restrictive policy. He blamed cutbacks and understaffing, noting that the biologists are overworked and that they don’t need to deal with the press. But he also noted that there is a problem with the flow of information. The press office can’t handle the job to the level that's needed and they may have to re-evaluate their policy. They'd better do it soon. On a side note, the same kind of press policy is also in place for other state agencies, which means it's got to be coming from a higher power.

As a press person, I used to get periodic calls from DEC staffers with some heads-up on things that were important for the general public to know. We’ve established a rapport over the years that had a certain synergy. The reverse was true, too. That connection is now gone as the DEC employees fear for their jobs. Because of the work environment, we may be losing the meat and potatoes of expertise as they seek out early retirement or move on to other jobs in similar agencies.

When Martens noted the biologists are often too busy to deal with press, he failed to mention that working with the media serves as an important function. It helps to get the word out to the hunting and fishing communities when dissemination of information is critical. Rather than deal with a couple outdoor writers, those same biologists may have to field many more questions from the general public for the same information. Yes, the general public can call the biologists and get the straight scoop. The press can’t. Make sense?

This is nothing against the press office. They are trying to do their job the best they can. However, talking directly to the biologists can be invaluable for a story. You can be influenced by their passion and insight into a particular aspect of the outdoors. They recognize the importance of what they are doing and the media helps to justify that to the public. It’s a win-win situation. And it’s more timely. There is no middle person to deal with.

There’s a tendency for misinformation to get out there, too. One local fishing club was complaining when the DEC closed off one of the waterfowl blinds on Strawberry Island in the Upper Niagara River for the late season. Of course, there were rumors flying around with comments that DEC was against duck hunting. The actual issue was that there was a bald eagle nest being built and it has since been established – the first time that there has been a successful bald eagle nest on the New York side of the river. There is federal legislation that would prohibit any hunting around the nest …which is the rest of the story. I had to find out about this from a local birder who is in touch with DEC on a regular basis. No, he’s not a press guy.

DEC has also been walking a slippery slope when it comes to keeping the public informed on projects that truly impact our natural resources as far as this writer is concerned. Last Dec. 5, DEC personnel met with a company called ECOsponsible about putting two hydrokinetic projects in the river. If DEC personnel were in attendance or they heard about it, they were sworn to secrecy. Why couldn’t the agency that was being pitched for a project that would ultimately affect the natural resources that we enjoy on a regular basis keep the stakeholders informed? I thought they worked for the general public and our license dollars helped to pay their salary. Times, they are a-changing…which is a perfect segue into the next blog – on ECOsponsible.

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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