DEC policy: Crossbows in archery

Albany — A lot can happen between the time a governor unveils his proposed budget and when it becomes finalized and approved by state lawmakers.

But if the language within Gov. Cuomo’s proposed 2014 spending plan that gives DEC the authority to regulate crossbow use in New York remains intact, those implements could very well be legalized by this fall – even within the regular archery season.

There are a couple of reasons why that could happen fairly quickly.

For starters, the deadline for finalizing the state budget is April 1. If lawmakers even come close to meeting that deadline – and the budget has been on time for the past three years – it would be in plenty of time to have any crossbow regulations published in the 2014-15 Hunting and Trapping Regulations guide, which generally goes to press in early summer.

But a bigger factor is that DEC already has a policy in place regarding crossbow use, and it calls for allowing the implements “for hunting during all seasons in which other bowhunting equipment is allowed.”

That phraseology is contained within DEC’s white-tailed deer management plan.

“Since this plan was reviewed and published, it constitutes ‘policy’ and therefore DEC is in favor of broadly allowing use of crossbows in all seasons and for all species that may be taken by longbow/compound bow,” said DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang. “This includes regular-season big-game seasons, special archery bear/big-game seasons, and spring/fall turkey seasons.”

Crossbow advocates see 2014 as the best chance yet to have the implements legalized within the regular archery big-game seasons.

Part of their optimism is that Gov. Cuomo is seemingly making a push to regain support of sportsmen that was largely lost on the heels of the passage of the SAFE Act gun control legislation in January of 2013. Sportsmen – especially hunters and gun owners – aren’t likely to forget that rapid-fire, late-night legislative action, but the election-year posturing has opened the door of opportunity for the state’s hunters, anglers and trappers. That was evidenced last month when the governor’s proposed budget included funding for a variety of projects, including improvements to the state’s fish hatcheries.

Both sides are expected to lobby their positions as the state budget is developed.

DEC’s policy on the crossbow, as contained in the state’s deer management plan, labeled the 2010 law that allowed limited crossbow use (during the regular firearms and late muzzleloading seasons) one that falls short of addressing the state’s deer management needs, “nor is it consistent with hunter preferences.

“Deer populations in some portions of the state, particularly where access or firearm use is restricted, may cause serious impacts on forest regeneration, biodiversity protection, and public health,” the deer plan reads. “Crossbows are one additional tool to help DEC manage deer populations. Further, allowing crossbows to be used by hunters with physical disabilities – as well as family members with whom they enjoy spending their outdoor experience – will allow them to continue hunting. This is consistent with DEC’s interests in connecting New Yorkers with nature.”

The two-year trial period for crossbows expired in 2012 when legislation to extend crossbow use within the firearm and late muzzleloader season was vetoed by Cuomo. The governor quashed that proposal in order to preserve the state’s first-ever youth hunt for 14- and 15-year-olds; the legislation would have prohibited firearms within the regular archery season, including during the Columbus Day weekend youth deer hunt.

Much of the organized opposition to crossbow use, particularly within the archery season, has come from New York Bowhunters, Inc., a statewide organization which has long lobbied against crossbows.

NYB president Rich Kirschner says a 2010 Cornell University study regularly cited by crossbow advocates as proof of hunter support of the implements “did not represent bowhunter opinions. NYB has taken surveys which show an overwhelming majority of bowhunters are opposed to crossbows being fully included during the archery season.”

But Rick McDermott, president of the New York Crossbow Coalition, says the state’s hunters “have been arbitrarily denied the use of crossbows for too long.”

And Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, in a letter to Cuomo requesting budget language that would allow crossbows, says crossbow use could generate what he called a “conservative estimate” of $1 million in license revenue.

“Additional economic benefits are likely to result as more resident hunters keep their hunting trips within the state and as more nonresidents chose to plan hunting trips in New York, in order to take advantage of the ability to use a crossbow during the archery season,” Gallivan said in his letter to the governor.

Several neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, currently have liberal crossbow regulations, as do the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

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