Freeloaders no longer: Get the Patch

The Department of Environmental Conservations current operating budget of $492 million is serviced by the Conservation Fund, which requires that all monies collected from the sale of sporting licenses be spent exclusively for fish and game related purposes. For over seven decades, Conservation Fund revenue has supported the programs and staff in the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources (FWMR ) and the Division of Law Enforcement. Currently, the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses generates about $37 million of the $100+ million operating budget of the FWMR. Licensing and permitting fees provide the DEC with the majority of its primary operating revenue, about 58%. Direct funding from the state contributes another 24%, and federal programs and grants make up the remaining 17% difference. In order to reduce expenses to the Conservation Fund, the Division of the Budget and the Governors office was forced to shift nearly 34% of the total DEC budget to the General Fund. These changes have allowed the Fund to remain solvent even as revenues continue to erode. As Jason Kemper, the Conservation Fund Advisory Boards Region 5 representative explains, Were now over $21 million in the hole. There has to be a change in how the state looks at the Conservation Fund to support fish and wildlife. Kemper detailed how present license fees are no longer adequate to meet the assigned costs. And even a fee increase, will not be able to sustain the Conservation Fund without assistance from the General Fund. Presently, hunters, fishers and trappers directly support about 66% of the DEC budget through license sales and an excise tax on their equipment. They also support the other 34% through state taxes that go into the General Fund. Yet, sportsmen and women get tagged twice; which wouldnt be so bad if they were the only ones utilizing the states natural resources. It wouldnt even be so hard to swallow if they were actually the majority consumer of the states natural resources. However, the amount of time hunters, trappers and anglers spend in the woods pursuing game is dictated by seasons established by the DEC. Conversely, the non-consumptive sporting community has year round, free reign to utilize the environment and no fees are required. All NYS citizens, visitors and tourists benefit from DECs management of the states environment, wildlife, waterways and trail systems. There are no fees to use the park. Though often ridiculed as a bunch of free-loading, granola crunching, tree huggers; I believe that if a method was available for them to pay their fair share; most would. Especially if the contribution would enhance their experience. This point was best explained by Evelyn Green of North Creek, a very active member of this user group. She explains, We have always wanted a way to pay more directly for the use of forest preserve .... if the money went for forest preserve. But a lot of us would like a way to separate it from sportsmen's licenses and stamps, so that we can be counted. We often feel that sportsmen and their issues get more respect than we and ours. In the long run it would be good to capture the large numbers of out-of-staters and even out of countries who contribute nothing to the support of the forest preserve. Buses of hikers from Montreal mean they often spend hardly anything at all in the country. Annually, an estimated 100,000 hikers sign the trail registers in the High Peaks Wilderness alone and the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has over 30,000 members, who pay dues of $25 for the privilege of membership and the bonus of free parking at the Heart Lake trailhead. The ADK generates another $100,000 annually from non-members for trail head parking fees. Consider the revenue that could be generated if these same people were required to have a license. Consider also, the birders, paddlers, rock and ice climbers, skiers, snowshoers, mountain bikers and especially the campers. The mechanism to deliver such a license was established when DECALS, a computerized licensing system was installed in sports shops, town offices and even at Wal-Mart. There was very little notice this past summer when DEC began selling voluntary Trails Supporter patches at DECALS outlets. Similar to Habitat Stamps that are available for voluntary purchase by sportsmen, the new Trails Supporter Patch is available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds are deposited in the Conservation Fund's Outdoor Recreation, Trail Maintenance, and Development Account to help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State. DEC administers more than 3,500 miles of non-motorized trails on State Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, Forest Preserves, and Multiple Use Area. However, to date, the DEC has done a poor job of marketing the patch. This is especially troubling since many non-consumptive users would surely embrace the opportunity to contribute. Although sportsmen had purchased over 9000 Habitat Stamps by years end, accounting for nearly $45,000 inrevenue, there were only about 500 Trail Supporter Patches sold in the same period, bringing in just $2,500. The trouble is that DECALS sales are not available at retailers such as EMS or Campmor, where hikers buy equipment and supplies. And, hikers generally dont frequent sport shops that do offer DECALS outlets. DEC has not provided adequate opportunities to purchase the patch, nor have they generated much publicity for the program. Although Trails Supporter Patch proceeds are dedicated for trail enhancement,;paddlers can still utilize the DECALS system If you launch a boat, canoe or kayak at state fishing access areas, consider purchasing a fishing license to help the department cover the cost of maintaining them. Although there will be no patch or pin to display; youll have the solace of knowing that youve made an attempt to contribute. You can shed the freeloader label!

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