Cuomo budget to include crossbow

Albany — Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to place language in the state budget that would give the DEC the authority to develop regulations governing crossbow use in New York.

The move, seen by some sportsmen as an effort to recapture support lost following the passage of the SAFE Act gun control law last January, represents perhaps the biggest step yet toward legalizing crossbows.

DEC officials have previously said they favor liberalized crossbow use. Whether that means allowing the implements for senior and physically challenged hunters during the regular archery season or for all hunters in all seasons isn’t yet clear.

But crossbow advocates see Cuomo’s proposal, regardless of its political intent, as a huge opportunity.

Rick McDermott, president of the New York Crossbow Coalition, said the group “greatly appreciates Gov. Cuomo… lending his support to our efforts to recognize crossbows as a legal hunting implement in New York state. New York state hunters have been arbitrarily denied the use of crossbows for too long.”

The proposal sets the stage for another lobbying effort by both sides in the debate over crossbows. While a majority of hunters favor allowing crossbows within the regular archery season for physically challenged and senior hunters, that support erodes somewhat when there’s talk of allowing crossbow use for all hunters within the general archery season for deer and bear.

It remains clearly the most contentious debate among the state’s hunters.

“It’s time to move forward on the crossbow issue,” said New York State Conservation Council president Chuck Parker. “(The governor) has heard the will of the majority of sportsmen, which is also the established official position of the New York State Conservation Council.”

McDermott said Cuomo’s proposal would help reverse a decline in hunting license sales.

“Over the past few decades the number of hunters has steadily declined,” he said. “With the governor’s support, we are hopeful that the Legislature will agree to take action to reverse this trend by allowing DEC to provide additional hunting opportunities for crossbow hunters.”

Jason Kemper, chairman of the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory Board, said the crossbow proposal shows the Cuomo administration “is realizing the economic impact that hunting, fishing and trapping generate in New York state. and they are taking steps to improve those opportunities, including support for DEC to regulate crossbows. We still have a long list of issues to address but I believe we are making progress.”

Crossbows were allowed on a limited basis – within only the regular big-game and late muzzleloader deer seasons – under a two-year trial period that expired in 2012.

It was scheduled to be extended under those limitations, but legislation that would have done do was vetoed by Cuomo.

That veto, however, was supported by many sportsmen, since the extension proposal carried with it a provision that would have prohibited the use of firearms during the regular archery season – which would have quashed the state’s first-ever youth deer hunt. That hunt, for youths ages 14-15, was ultimately held over the three-day Columbus Day weekend in 2012 and again last fall, to generally solid reviews.

Cuomo, in a 200-page document accompanying his State of the State address, said the budget language putting the crossbow decision in the hands of DEC would “resolve a lapsed temporary fix, make New York competitive with neighboring states and provinces, enhance New York’s hunting destination reputation and give clarity to the sporting businesses that have held crossbows on their shelves for one year.”

The statewide bowhunters’ group New York Bowhunters, Inc., has long lobbied against crossbow use within the regular archery season. They’re likely to mobilize against the Cuomo proposal. New York Bowhunters president Rich Kirschner said the group “feels that important hunting issues like this should be part of a transparent process, which includes all interested parties and be subject to open debate, not hidden in the budget bill.”

Kirschner said New York Bowhunters has taken surveys “which show an overwhelming majority of bowhunters are opposed to crossbows being fully included during the archery season.”

The move to place the crossbow issue within the state budget also helps eliminate perhaps the single biggest hurdle in getting crossbow legislation passed – state Assemblyman Robert Sweeney.

Sweeney, a Long Island Democrat, serves as chairman of the Assembly environmental conservation committee, where previous crossbow bills have stalled.

Last year, the Senate approved a crossbow bill that would have placed regulatory authority in the hands of the DEC. But the Assembly version was never released from the committee by Sweeney, who called crossbows “a superior weapon.”

Whether Cuomo’s proposal survives the budget-making process remains to be seen.

Also within the document accompanying his State of the State address, Cuomo:
• proposed clarifying the limits on the liability of landowners who allow recreational activities on their property. “Landowners who have voluntarily opened their land for the public’s use should not be exposed to lawsuits that result from accidents on their property,” the document read. “Current law leaves too much open to interpretation, which leads to pre-emptive closures because landowners are unsure of their liability exposure. Clarifying landowners’ rights and liability protections could open up vast, untapped resources for hunting, fishing, and many other popular recreational pursuits.”
• created the New York Adventure License For New Yorkers who buy lifetime hunting or fishing licenses. Lifetime license holders will now have the option of having one New York State Adventure License – a driver’s license that includes icons for all of an individual’s lifetime license designations, including the Boater Safety Certificate and the newly created lifetime State Parks’ Empire Pass.
• proposed 50 new access projects to connect hunters, anglers, bird watchers and other outdoors enthusiasts to state-owned lands across New York. These proposed projects include building new boat launches, installing new hunting blinds and constructing new trails and parking areas.

Cuomo tied the proposals – as he as virtually all recent news related to outdoor recreation – to his New York Open for Hunting and Fishing initiative designed to expand opportunities for sportsmen and women.

But it’s been a tough sell to the state’s hunters and gun owners who are still fuming over the late-night passage of the SAFE Act gun control legislation.

Several dozen protesters trekked to Albany for the State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, where they stood outside the event, holding signs and chanting “Cuomo’s Gotta Go!”

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