Mexico, N.Y. — As it enters its 90th anniversary year, the New York State Conservation Council, which since 1933 has lobbied for legislation and policies that support hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities in the state, could use a little support of its own.
Funding is becoming a critical issue as a result of fading financial support and other factors, according to council President Chuck Parker, of Mexico, in Oswego County.
The council has already undertaken several cost-cutting measures, but more needs to be done to reinvigorate New York’s oldest conservation organization, Parker said.
“Somehow we need to reach out and get new membership for the council,” he said. “We have made major cuts and redesigned the way we operate to the tune of in excess of $10,000 in operational cost without a loss in service. Significant savings. But we are facing an ongoing loss in funding due to people aging out and supporting organizations going by the wayside.”
The Conservation Council’s mission is “to aid in the formulation and establishment of sound policies and practices designed to conserve, protect, restore and perpetuate forests, wildlife and scenic and recreational areas,” according to its website.
The council works closely with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, has representation on the Conservation Fund Advisory Board, state Fish Wildlife Management Board, and other advisory groups, and speaks out in support or opposition to legislation that affects natural resources and/or the outdoor community.
In recent years, several factors have combined to make those efforts more challenging, Parker said.
In today’s fast-paced world, hunting and fishing have gotten lost in the shuffle, and the council has to compete with groups that are better funded and more urban-centered, he said.
Spikes in violent crime and highly-publicized mass shootings have also put law-abiding gun owners and hunters in a bad light, according to Parker and others.
Lockdowns and other restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the council and its members.
Some of the blame for the Conservation Council’s struggles can be assigned to sportsmen and women themselves, according to Mike Elam, of Monroe County, former council treasurer and 2022 inductee to the New York State Outdoorsman Hall of Fame.
“Apathy is a big issue for any sportsman groups and in my opinion, many sportsmen are not giving any financial support to organizations that support their interests,” Elam said.
“The antis have very strong financial standings so they can lobby, advertise and afford legal representation,” he said.
“If sportsmen donated $5 a year to NYSCC, a lot more action could be taken on sportsman’s issues. That’s the cost of coffee and a doughnut.”
Rich Davenport of Erie County, a Conservation Council Region 9 alternate delegate, believes council leadership can do more to offer a focus on the most critical issues members and county federations can rally around.
“We have many issues that impact hunting and fishing, and trapping, or the hunters, anglers and trappers, that have no positions and no ‘what you can do’ information behind it,” Davenport said. “Nevertheless, apathy is seeming to grow borne from this void in positions and a lack of clarity as to what can be done by the individuals, what needs to be done, and why.”
Many rank and file delegates expect “someone to do something” when they are the someones who have the voice to speak out, Davenport said.
In addition to the loss of older members, some county sportsman federations aren’t as active in council affairs as they could be, Parker said.
To really help the council be a statewide force in guiding policy that affects outdoor recreation, local federations need to actively recruit new members and aggressively engage with legislators and other policymakers, he said.
“All actions and positions of the NYSCC are based on the positions and policies of our voting membership, which is defined in our constitution and bylaws,” Parker said. “The voting membership consisted of county federations, a maximum of 62, and various statewide associated organizations.
We are the strongest when our membership has a strong representation of the sportsmen in New York state.”
To learn more about the New York State Conservation Council and how to become involved, go to nyscc.com.