Taking credit where credit isn't due
It’s amazing to me how many sportsmen and women out there don’t really understand the Federal Aid to Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program. This national effort is a result of your purchase of fishing tackle, firearms, ammunition, archery equipment and motorboat fuels, along with license sales, to help fund sport fishing and wildlife restoration in all states, including New York.
The Pittman-Robertson Act, or Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, was passed in 1938 – over 75 years ago. It was designed to counteract the wildlife crisis by providing local funding for wildlife management research; the selection, restoration, rehabilitation and improvement of wildlife habitat; and public use and benefit related to wildlife and the corresponding habitat. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, projects also include providing access to wildlife resources, hunter education and development and management of shooting ranges. In other words, it’s our money given back to us for the excise taxes we paid on hunting-related equipment.
In 1950, the Dingell-Johnson Act, or Sport Fish Restoration Act was created to provide similar management, conservation and restoration improvements for fisheries. Together, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs have transformed the habitat and improved the conditions and prospects for New York's fish and wildlife. In short, both acts encourage a scientific approach toward managing – and restoring – fish and wildlife.
The recent press announcement out of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s press office in Albany awarding $135,000 in grants to 13 shooting ranges across the state gives full credit of the program to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY Open for Fishing and Hunting initiative – like it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for our governor. Really?
Allotments of these federal funds are doled out to the individual states based on the number of sporting license sales for hunting and fishing. It can’t be used for just anything and specific guidelines and criteria must be followed. Again, this has been going on for over 75 years in some cases.
There is a small faction out there who believe we should turn down this money for ranges, just like there are people out there who think we should protest the unconstitutional SAFE Act by not purchasing fishing and hunting licenses. They feel that we are making a deal with the devil after the passing of the SAFE Act, selling our souls to help pacify the wrongs that have been committed against state sportsmen, sportswomen and gun owners. The reality is that the licenses fund DEC’s fish and wildlife programs, which we all benefit from – including the fish and wildlife. The federal money is distributed based on license sales. If we continue to buy things like guns and ammunition, but fail to purchase the corresponding licenses in New York, we won’t be receiving our just due when it comes to the financial distribution of the excise taxes. And we wouldn’t have the money to help pay for hunter safety education, access acquisition and construction and whatever else the money can be used for. We would only be shooting ourselves in the foot.
This is only one example of what our governor is taking credit for, an Open for Hunting and Fishing initiative that is trying to combat his negative image that was a result of the SAFE Act passage. We need to recognize this push is primarily a political ploy to show that Gov. Cuomo is a friend of the outdoor sporting community. Every press release issued touts the initiative. It trumpets the stocking of 900,000 pounds of fish annually (something that hasn’t changed since he became governor) and that there is $4 million in the governor’s budget for repairs to the state fish hatcheries this year.
On the latter issue, while it’s in the governor’s budget, that doesn’t mean it will stay there – or that it will be spent. Last year, $1 million was in the budget and roughly 30 percent of it was spent. At the same time, a $360,000 allocation was spent on the Salmon River Fish Hatchery for water improvements. The funny thing there is that the money came from a special Natural Resources Damages claim for Lake Ontario through Occidental Chemical. Coincidence? A total of $2 million was actually approved for the hatchery, but the state is holding up the process to expend those NRD funds – funds that just sit in the bank when they should be paying for a long list of approved projects. It certainly appears that the state is playing a shell game, moving money around that in reality is not theirs to take credit for or hold back on. But with the lack of transparency at the top, we really don’t know who’s moving the shells or even what’s under them.
Even the reduction in hunting and fishing licenses is another attempt to pacify anti-SAFE Act people. It could be a catalyst for getting new people to hunt and fish. It should be a huge incentive for sportsmen to come and hunt and fish in the state – residents and nonresidents alike. The sad thing is that no knows anything about it. The state’s DEC and tourism division (Empire State Development) cannot go out of state to promote the license fee reductions and individual counties and regions are left to get the word out. So far, only a handful of sportsmen in Pennsylvania and Ohio have been aware of the changes and these were people that come year after year. I base that on firsthand experience at the trade shows this winter. Sure, most of them were happy with the reduction in fees, but it didn’t make a difference whether or not they were coming. There needs to be a bigger outreach. In state, the rapport between DEC and the outdoor writers is broken. It needs to be fixed.
The most productive thing that the outdoor community can accomplish is to unite on the issues and become a massive voting bloc come election time. It’s a muscle that we need to flex, to achieve the changes we desire.