Gov. David Paterson has confirmed that the state's only facility for rearing ring-necked pheasants for stocking into the wild will be closed.
The 8,000 birds currently housed at the Reynolds Game Farm in the town of Dryden (Ithaca County) will be processed and distributed through local food pantries to needy families, Paterson said.
The governor billed the closing as a cost-cutting measure in difficult economic times, saying shuttering the farm will save about $750,000 annually.
Meanwhile, area sportsmen called the move political - motivated by deep-pocketed animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Those groups have long advocated against stocking programs, and were quick to commend the governor's decision to close Reynolds farm.
"While I understand the economic and recreational importance of pheasant hunting to many of New York's outdoor enthusiasts, we must focus our limited resources in this difficult crisis and look for innovative ways to meet the needs of the people of the State," Paterson said. "The closure of the Reynolds Game Farm presents us with one such opportunity."
Neither relocation nor release into the wild is a viable option for the birds, according to the DEC, because other stocking facilities were not equipped to take the pheasants and the birds have had their wing feathers clipped, making them unable to fly.
Local hunters have expressed dismay over the decision, saying it was done in a vacuum and will negatively impact license sales and hunting opportunities for adults and youth.
Dominick Bernardi of Lake Clear, an avid grouse, woodcock and pheasant hunter, said the move will save little money for the state.
"The five full-time workers at the farm will be reassigned; no one is being laid off, so that $350,000 in salaries and benefits will still have to be paid," he said. "That's why I say it's political."
Groups like the Humane Society of the United States have for years advocated against stocking pheasants - and fish for that matter - into the wild calling such practices things like "canned hunts."
Meanwhile, pheasant hunting ranks one of the most popular small-game hunting activities in New York, according to the DEC. The DEC's Small Game Hunter Survey in 2006-07 indicated that about 60,000 hunters harvested 130,000 pheasants statewide, while spending 262,000 days afield.
Without stocking that opportunity would all but cease to exist, DEC officials say, because a sustainable population of pheasants does not exist in the Adirondacks.
Bernardi contends that sending the 60,000 upland bird hunters to neighboring states - or to paid game farms where licenses are not required - would have a far greater impact on New York's economy than the money saved by closing Reynolds farm.
He also said the farm was completely funded by money from the state's Conservation Fund, which comes from license sales and federal monies associated with excise taxes on sporting goods.
"Where will that money end up, in the general fund?" he asked. "This doesn't bode well for the future of sportsmen in New York."
The Reynolds facility had been producing about 27,000 adult pheasants for stocking primarily on DEC-managed public hunting grounds. The farm also raised another 15,000 7- to 10-week old birds which were distributed to cooperators in the Young Pheasant Release Program. Those birds were then raised and released on approved sites.
Another 60,000 day-old chicks were hatched and distributed to cooperators in DEC's Day-Old Chick Program, in which clubs and individuals - including many youth - then raised birds to adulthood. All birds had to be released on lands open to hunting.
DEC estimated it cost the state $18 to raise an adult bird.
Still not certain is whether the state will look at purchasing pheasants from private growers, but the savings associated with doing so would me minimal, officials say.
Schroon Lake's Don Sage, president of the Schroon Lake Fish and Game Club and life member of the Adirondack Conservation Council, said young hunters will be particularly impacted by the decision.
Sage pointed to special pheasant youth hunts established by the state and others held by local rod and gun clubs.
"It will be especially hard on the new youth hunters who are just getting started and who have enjoyed the youth pheasant hunts to date. It is just one more step to discourage our young people from getting out and enjoying the outdoors," Sage said.
Like Bernardi, Sage said the savings will be minimal if any to the state, compared with the loss of revenue businesses will experience as upland bird hunters head to other areas to find birds.
"It just shows the narrow minded point of view of a state dictated by New York City," he said.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.