Fish and Game Commission needs greater diversity
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Fish and Game Commission needs greater diversity

FROM John A. Litvaitis, The Monitor
March 17, 2017

This year, Fish and Game Director Glenn Normandeau has returned to the Legislature asking for several million dollars to cover revenue shortfalls. It has been a number of years since Fish and Game operated in the black. Why is that?

In 1935, when the Legislature created what we now know as the Fish and Game Department, it was understood that dedicated revenues would be the department’s major source of income. At the same time, the Legislature created the Fish and Game Commission, a group of citizens interested in hunting, fishing and trapping that would oversee operations of the department. It seemed appropriate that the commission be made up of individuals active in hunting and fishing as a way to ensure that license holders were well served.

However, times have changed and the number of people involved with hunting and fishing has substantially declined. At the same time, the responsibilities of Fish and Game have expanded well beyond the early years and now include such areas as off-road vehicle supervision, search and rescue, endangered species restoration and environmental education, as well as their responsibilities to manage fish, game and furbearers.

Funding of the department also has become more complex. Using 2015 as an example, revenue is provided by ATV/snowmobile registrations and transfers (34 percent), federal funds (33 percent), hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and associated permits (20 percent), other agency income like nongame donations and conservation license plates (10 percent) and state general funds (3 percent).

License sales are now a relatively small portion of the needed revenues.
As these changes occurred, the number of New Hampshire residents involved in canoeing, kayaking and viewing wildlife (collectively referred to as “nonconsumptive users”) has increased tremendously.

Combined, the spin-off revenue generated by nonconsumptive wildlife users is substantially greater than that generated by hunters and anglers. However, nonconsumptive users are not directly contributing to the operations of Fish and Game.

Why not? Simply put, they don’t have a voice at Fish and Game.

Senate Bill 48 seeks to establish a study commission that will explore ways to expand the constituency involved in advising the Fish and Game Department. Such a change will clearly increase the base of support for the department well beyond hunters and anglers and aid in identifying ways to meet the financial demands of this worthy organization.

Without making these changes to the existing Fish and Game Commission, there is little incentive for nonconsumptive wildlife enthusiasts to “put up their fair share.” Transforming the commission to an advisory panel that includes a greater diversity of wildlife interests would be a large step in the right direction. Such a panel could be mandated to develop a strategy that places Fish and Game on solid financial footing. And just as important, serves all the citizens of the state.

(John A. Litvaitis of Madbury is UNH emeritus professor of wildlife ecology and a member of the N.H. Wildlife Coalition.)

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