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CASH Courier > 1994 Spring Issue

Selected Articles from our newsletter

The C.A.S.H. Courier
From the Spring / Summer 2002 Issue

WHO REALLY RUNS THE DEC?

by Rhonda Engman

This article is an attempt to explain how New York State's fish and wildlife programs are funded. This is an enormously complex and messy affair that discriminates against the non-consumptive "user" and, in the process, discriminates against "non-game" animals. If you read this and still scratch your head saying that the funding doesn't make sense, don't worry. It's not meant to. It's only meant to serve the consumptive public and that's all that counts. Here goes.

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is broken up into numerous divisions, including the Division of Fish and Wildlife. Among its many duties, the DEC is mandated by law to "Promote and coordinate management of water, land, fish, wildlife, and air resources to assure their protection, enhancement, provision, allocation, and balanced utilization consistent with the environmental policy of the state..." (If our "air resources" should ever be in short supply, I have no idea how the DEC will "allocate" them, but let's not worry about that now.)

The Division of Fish and Wildlife has received funding from the following sources: The Conservation Fund, federal aid, the General Fund, environmental enforcement, and marine resources. During the 1991-92 fiscal year, the last year for which there are statistics, the total from these sources was 57.6 million. Environmental enforcement and marine resources combined totaled only $3.6 million and play only a negligible part in the whole. The other three sources are the most important and will be discussed in detail there.

FEDERAL AID:

All state wildlife agencies are recipients of federal money through the Pittman- Robertson and Dingell-Johnson acts. Pittman-Robertson money must be used for wildlife restoration and hunter education. Dingell-Johnson money must be used for sports fish restoration. Where does this money come from?

Pittman-Robertson money is an eleven- percent excise tax on long guns and ammunition, and a ten-percent excise tax on pistols and revolvers and an eleven- percent excise tax on certain archery equipment paid by the manufacturer or importer to the federal government.

The money paid by the federal government to each state is based on the number of hunting licenses sold in that state.

In the case of Dingell-Johnson money, this is a ten-percent excise tax on fishing equipment and a three-percent excise tax on electric trolling motors and sonar fish finders. This year, the Wallop-Breaux Law will require that a portion of the federal motorboat fuels tax and import duties on fishing tackle and pleasure boats also be dedicated to sports fish restoration. The return to each state is based on the number of fishing licenses sold in that state.

Obviously, there are many buyers of guns or boats who don't hunt or fish, but the taxes on their equipment go to the consumptive user.

During the 1991-92 fiscal year federal money going to NYS was $7.2 million.

THE CONSERVATION FUND:

The Conservation Fund is a dedicated fund used solely for fish and wildlife programs. The money in the Conservation Fund comes from the sale of resident and nonresident hunting, fishing, and trapping. licenses: fines (when a hunter is fined, the money is returned to the Conservation Fund, even if the hunter is fined for trespassing on your posted property or committing some other non-wildlife-related EnCon violation); fees; the sale of books, migratory bird stamps, and other materials Return a Gift to Wildlife monies (RAGTW); interest on investments, particularly from RAGTW; and other minor sources. This totaled $34.7 million during fiscal year 1991-92.

THE GENERAL FUND:

The General Fund is the state's general account, comprised mostly of your tax dollars. It pays for toilet paper, secretarial services, construction, some vehicles, land acquisition from environmental bonds, etc.-the things we might call "essential services."During 1991-92 the portion going to Fish and Wildlife programs amounted to about $12 million.

Although the DEC is constantly telling people hunters pay for the majority of fish and wildlife programs, as you can see they paid for only 60.2% of the programs. In previous years when the Environmental Bond Act brought much more money in for land acquisition, their contribution was less than half.

THE CONSERVATION FUND ADVISORY COUNCIL:

The CFAC is mandated by law which states, among other things, that members must possess a valid hunting, fishing, or trapping license. The purpose of the CFAC is to advise the DEC on how to use the money in the Conservation Fund.

The CFAC meets with DEC officials once a month, the meetings sometimes lasting many hours. (The November 1993 meeting lasted more than five hours.) To make a long and complicated story short, if you were to read the minutes of CFAC meetings, you would see that CFAC has basically taken control of all funding sources. including the monies from the General Fund, and tries to control the running of the Division of Fish and Wildlife. In fact, at one recent meeting. the president of the CFAC made the Division's three Bureau chiefs show him their hunting licenses, and they did. (I'm not making this up. it's in the minutes.)

THE NEW YORK STATE CONSERVATION COUNCIL:

Despite its name, the NYSCC is a dedicated hunting club, claiming to have about 300,000 members. By law one of the members of the NYSCC must be represented on the CFAC. This allows NYSCC to have direct control over the funding of wildlife programs and over the Division. NYSCC and the CFAC rarely disagree on issues. They were both in favor of Sunday hunting, allowing 12 year-olds to hunt, the venison bill, the legalization of the crossbow, and on and on.

GOOD OL' BOY NETWORK:

If you met with DEC officials as I do, you'd notice one very odd thing. The meetings are always male DEC officials meeting with female animal rights activists. Let me assure you that the gender gap is alive and well in the DEC.

There are no female deputy commissioners. There are only three assistant commissioners-Solid Public Affairs, and Human Resources. hi tile Division of Fish and Wildlife, there are almost no female biologists. We will never. get anywhere unless we insist that the DEC start hiring more women--particularly for upper level positions within the DEC and for non-clerical positions within the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

YOU:

Where do you fit in? Well, that depends. Ken Wich, the director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, claims non-consumptive "users" have access to the Division through letters and meetings that they can request. When I asked him if he would be amenable to changing the composition of the CFAC to include citizens who didn't hunt, fish, or trap, he said, "No."

If you look at the statistics, the number of consumptive users is declining, despite DEC's various attempts to increase those numbers. For example, the hunting age was lowered to 12 a couple of years ago. The CFAC then authorized an increase in the cost of most licenses in an attempt to make up for the decline in licenses sold. But that didn't work. So, come August 1993, the Division ran out of money and was unable to pay its employees until a special allocation from the General Fund brought the Division out of the red.

Governor Cuomo is now proposing that more money come out of the General Fund on a regular basis and that a special five-cent, non-refundable bottle tax be charged, the revenue from which would go to the Conservation Fund.

The CFAC wants to initiate user fees so that hikers and other non-consumptive users would put money into the Conservation Fund. This really irritated me because I thought it impertinent of the CFAC to tell the DEC how non-consumptive users should pay for wildlife programs without consulting us. So, I wrote to the DEC Deputy Commissioner Bob Bendick and asked him to hold joint meetings and workshops attended by all interested parties so that everyone could decide how the state's fish and wildlife programs will be funded. No response from Bendick as of yet.

HERE'S WHAT I PROPOSE:

By law, all New Yorkers are stewards of the wildlife in this state. We should all be responsible for the well-being of New York's wildlife on an equal basis with equal access to the DEC and equal input on how wildlife programs are run. I propose that a dollar amount he deducted from the General Fund based on the number of people in the state. In other words, let's say there are 17 million people in the state, and we agree to deduct annually $4 per person from the General Fund. That's $68 million. The DEC would also sell licenses as it has always done, but this money would be controlled by all interested citizens not by hunters. After all, is there a group of licensed drivers which meets and determines how car license money is spent? Of course not.

Every DEC employee I've proposed this to has liked, the idea. The questions are: Will the hunters go for it and will the legislature allow it? Only time will tell.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:

1) Send for a copy of the CFAC's fiscal report which comes out every April 1. (Is there some coincidence that this is April Fool's Day?) The report is free and available from the CFAC at the DEC's address, 5O Wolf Rd., Albany, NY 12233. (No coincidence there.) Keep current with the CFAC and the DEC and what they're doing with your money and your wildlife.

2) Write to Governor Cuomo and tell him that New York's wildlife programs should be paid for by everyone equally and that everyone should have equal representation concerning how the money for these programs is spent. Cuomo's address is Executive Chambers, State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224.

3) Write to the DEC's new commissioner, Langdon Marsh and insist that the DEC hire more women for upper level DEC positions and non-clerical positions within the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Thanks for your help!

RONDA ENGMAN IS VICE PRESIDENT OF THE NEW YORK STATE COALITION FOR ANIMALS (NYSCA). SHE CAN BE CONTACTED AT 571 SOUTH DANBY ROAD, SPENCER, NY 14883; 607-589-4031.

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