Last weeks article explored the need for additional funding necessary to maintain the state Conservation Fund. Several readers were surprised by the revelation that sporting license sales constitute the funds primary funding source. While 100 percent of hunting, fishing and trapping license fees go directly to the conservation fund, additional funding comes from federal excise taxes that are collected on every rod or reel an angler buys, or firearm and ammunition that a hunter purchases. These federal excise taxes are then distributed back to the states based on the sales of sporting licenses. It's vital to understand that even these contributions are not enough to keep the fund solvent. Hunting and Fishing: Bright Stars of the American Economy, a national report compiled by the Congressional Sportsmens Foundation released in December indicates that 34 million US sportsmen, hunters and anglers spend $76 billion annually on their pastimes of hunting and fishing; contributing about $1.8 billion annually to conservation. Without their financial contributions, conservation as we know it would cease to exist in our country. Many modern day, outdoor travelers fail to recognize that sportsmen were among the first conservationists. While Theodore Roosevelt was possibly the most famous, others such as William Hornaday, a founder of the Wildlife Conservation Society, initiated a campaign to breed buffalo in captivity at the Bronx Zoo in 1905. A hunter, Hornaday hoped to save the species from extinction by restocking the Great Plains with buffalo bred in the Bronx. Our industry is proud of its leading role in financially supporting wildlife conservation and protecting habitat, explains Doug Painter, president and CEO of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, We are especially proud that our industry stepped up to the plate for America's wildlife and natural resources decades before 'environmentalism' became a popular movement. Nationally, numerous sportsmans organizations continue to work toward enhancing habitat and opportunities for wildlife, including Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, Trout Unlimited, the American Sportfishing Association and many more. On the state level, it is the local fish and game clubs, rod and gun clubs and other sportsmans federations that contribute the man hours to help the state stock fish or game birds. Club members host educational events and sponsor the hunter safety education and trapper education courses that are a licensing requirement. Yet, hunters, anglers and trappers are not the sole beneficiaries of the funding and other efforts devoted to wildlife conservation and habitat protection. It may appear self serving for groups like Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited or the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to work to protect fish and game species or their habitat, yet everyone benefits in the process. A partial listing of additional beneficiaries would include birders, hikers, paddlers, bikers, skiers, snowshoers and nature lovers. Its obvious that wetland and wildland preservation benefits everyone! Despite this fact, it is important to remember that currently, it is only the sportsmen and women that are required to pay for this privilege. Finding funding alternatives
A national survey conducted by US Fish and Wildlife Service, entitled Recreation and the Environment: Outdoor Recreation in the 21st Century, indicates that nearly two thirds of all Americans participated in at least one human powered recreational pursuit in the previous year. Regional tourism officials estimate the number of annual visitors to the Adirondacks varies from 7 to 9 million people. Given that 66 percent of all Americans participated in a human powered, outdoor recreational activity in the past year; its obvious that tremendous revenue could be realized by developing an equitable method to collect fees from these user groups. Traditional pursuits, such as hunting and fishing have experienced a serious downtrend in recent years, with declines in license sales ranging from 7 percent to 12 percent in the past decade. At the same time, sportsmen and women are growing older, with the average age now approaching 48 years. Conversely, a wide variety of outdoor recreation pursuits, ranging from skiing and snowshoeing to hiking, biking, birding and paddle sports are still growing rapidly. These activities, unregulated by seasons, offer the potential to create a year round revenue stream. The average age of non-sporting enthusiast ranges between 27 and 41 depending on activity. Taking all of this into account, it becomes quite obvious that the continued enjoyment of the outdoors by a wide variety of users can no longer be supported solely on the backs of hunters and anglers. With declining numbers, there simply are not enough sportsman remaining to foot the bill. As a result, a method to ensure that all users contribute has to be devised, whether by permit, license, stamp, button, patch or badge. This is an issue that will surely stir emotions. However, if the quality of the outdoor experience declines due to misuse or abuse of the woods and waters, a lack of game management and stocking programs or search and rescue and law enforcement; we will all suffer in the end. So too will the woods! In a region renowned for its wild and scenic beauty, encompassing nearly three million acres of forested, public lands; there surely is room for everyone. It is up to the intelligent users to discover the pathways to compromise. We must find the common ground necessary to explore options in an inclusionary fashion. Reader feedback
As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions on this important issue. Heres what others have to say. Please voice your opinion at firstname.lastname@example.org , at email@example.com or online at www.denpubs.com. JW from Willsboro: I also believe its time for the state to get some money from outdoor users other than hunters and fisherman. I certainly understand the difficulty-you don't want to start charging every tourist who goes for a walk in the Adks for a couple of hours, but it seems there could be something done. Maybe target the high traffic areas that require the most upkeep. BD from Long Lake: I recently read your piece... I could not agree more. I have been an avid hunter and fisherman all of my 56 years. Fellow sportsmen and I have discussed the issue of a user fee for years. It is only right that anyone who does not have an up to date hunting, fishing or trapping license be required to pay their fair share in order to partake in the recreation of their choosing. SG from Saranac Lake: Thank you for the information in your column... I'm going to clip it ...so that I can share it with many other friends. This topic is very near and dear to me, yet I was pretty clueless concerning the hard financial facts. I think that this spring I will buy a fishing license AND a trail patch, and encourage my hiking/boating pals to do the same! CF from Crown Point: I realize fees are the fashionable way for gutless politicians...to charge ..more money, while "holding the line on taxes," ... but trail fees are a bad idea. Should a guy living on social security pay the same amount to catch his dinner as a millionaire pays to fish for a trophy? Anything that even possibly keeps potential outdoors supporters out of the woods is a really bad idea. The state lands are held in trust for the people of the State of New York... No toll booths in the woods. DB from Lake Placid: I was ... with DEC for 30+ years. Every time the State proposed to increase the cost of the sporting licenses, there was always one complaint we heard loud and clear: Those damn hikers dont pay a thing! I think the answer is simple hiking license. This has been tossed around for years but ...two reasons always came down the Gvine 1. It was not enforceable. 2.The Adirondack Mountain Club would not let it happen. Lets do away with the voluntary Patch and add a required hiking license to our system...if you are on forest preserve land you will have to have either a hiking, fishing, hunting or trapping license. Enforcing hiking without a license wouldnt be any different than hunting without a license.