Changing times at DEC
During a July 30 conference call with Acting DEC Commissioner Marc Gerstman and several of his staff, it was announced that the state would be moving forward on some deer season changes this fall – not in 2016 after a series of public meetings as previously indicated. One regulation in particular focused on the first 15 days of the early archery season and all of the late bow and muzzleloader seasons – a dozen units ( 1C, 3M, 3S, 4J, 8A, 8C, 8F, 8G, 8H, 8N, 9A and 9F) will now be antlerless-only during that time. Because management objectives are not being met in these units, the state felt it was prudent to enact these regulations as soon as possible.
However, numerous hunters were upset that DEC originally said that they would not enact any new deer hunting regulations until 2016. It has certainly put people like Dale Dunkelberger of Lockport in a tough spot. Dunkelberger, who serves as the Region 9 representative to the Conservation Fund Advisory Board and is a person “in the know” when it comes to Albany issues as it relates to DEC, had been fielding negative comments since June. He assured people that nothing would take place until next year. Before July was over the hammer dropped and Dunkelberger took more heat for it even though he was not directly involved in the decision or the process.
“The only thing I can suggest at this time is to go onto the DEC website (www.dec.ny.gov) and voice your opinions on the new changes,” said Dunkelburger. “Many people called me to oppose the changes, but it was difficult to explain to them that I was only one voice, not matter how many calls I received. Changes normally won’t take place until there’s a review by the Deer Management Task Force for an area, which takes place every five years. We’ve not had one here in quite some time. Every call I received was negative.” As noted, there has not been a Deer Management Task Force meeting in years. Dunkelburger should know – he was on the task force! Is this going to be a new sign of the times? Are we simply going to be force-fed the things that DEC wants to see, like the Saturday regular season opening in the Southern Zone?
I had an opportunity to sit in on a Conservation Fund Advisory Board meeting on August 10 when CFAB met in Buffalo; I was a last-minute invite to attend. Region 9 personnel gave an overview of all the programs that they have been working on; very impressive to say the least. However, when you look at what they have to work with, a red flag should be going up. How long can the agency people in each region keep it up? In the fisheries section alone there should be seven capable biologists in place. Today there are three. They are also down two technicians. Included in the region is all of New York’s Lake Erie shoreline; 30 miles of Lake Ontario shoreline; the Niagara River; a big section of the Erie Canal and Chautauqua Lake – not to mention numerous other streams and inland lakes. It’s mind boggling.
Personnel aren’t the only thing affected by the current state of affairs. The region’s vehicle fleet is in a state of disrepair, with many of the vehicles over 10 years old and several carrying over 200,000 miles. Many of the employees feel like they are being neglected, particularly those on the outer fringe of the Empire State boundaries. The reality is that many of the regions are in the same type of situation, as well as different components of the Fish and Wildlife divisions.
According to CFAB Chairman Jason Kemper, DEC’s 12 fish hatcheries across the state are down 18 hatchery positions right now. In addition, they are poised to lose at least one hatchery manager and one assistant manager in the very near future. It’s been a difficult proposition to deal with filling those positions because of state hiring issues, no matter how important they are or where the funding comes from.
On top of all this, fishing license sales are down upward of 15 percent across the state – resident and nonresident. A multitude of problems have all contributed to this shortfall, even though the cost of a fishing license (and hunting license, too) was reduced. That license fee cut made for a good press release from DEC, but where it went was suspect. As I did trade shows around the Northeast, even within the state, few people heard about the decrease. Of more concern was the ease in getting a license. Time and time again, I heard nightmares of people trying to get their licenses before heading out only to have a problem with obtaining a fishing license. Charters were starting a hour late (or more), missing a possible good bite on the water. It all adds up to a less than optimum experience on the water and many people simply won’t be coming back. It also prompted some people to fish without a license, but with enforcement lacking the state lost out on the revenue. Other people just went home … without fishing.
Somewhere in all of this is the entire communications issue. As we’ve been documenting, outdoor press for the most part is out of the loop. Unless we plan something well in advance we don’t have the time to go through the Albany press office to get information from a biologist or resource manager – even if they are available. It’s disheartening to say the least. After building up a rapport with biologists over the years, everything was lost in one fell swoop. The real losers are the sportsmen and women of this state who look to outdoor writers for information. As a result, the rumor mill starts and many biologists feel that they spend more time explaining things rather than talking directly to a writer to set the record straight.
Another aspect of communication ties in with the entire licensing issue, too. It’s a database that the DEC and the state should be taking full advantage of. They need to communicate with previous license holders like they do in other states like Florida and Texas. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t receive some announcement from Florida on the fishing, from season openings to angling forecasts to new regulations proposals. You feel like you are part of a family. In addition, that license database should be used for tourism marketing efforts, too. It used to be. A change in state leadership has put the brakes on all of that. Open those communications channels back up!