Lawmakers look to address Conservation Fund concerns

As Kemper puts it, the state is misusing conservation funds, because licensing fees for outdoor enthusiasts in northern, central, and western New York are paying for stewardship at the state's saltwater fisheries.

Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward notes that freshwater anglers pay more than $30 to fish in New York state, while the cost for hunting licenses also increased in recent years.

"And the saltwater fishermen get away scot-free," she said. "This year, that $10 fee was rescinded. We just want to be able to discuss that with the governor. How is that fair? These fishermen pay nothing, and our money, the money raised by our sportsmen and women, goes directly to benefit them and they don't make any contribution at all."

Kemper says the surplus in the conservation fund leaves some lawmakers with the impression that it's not being used. That has outdoor advocates worried that the state Legislature will attempt to use the funds for some other purpose.

He adds that the marine license repeal has drawn attention to the fund, and some legislators might be eyeing it to make up for budget shortfalls elsewhere.

The reality, Kemper says, is that the budget division keeps turning away proposals for how to use the money in a way that benefits the outdoor community.

"We've got 11 vacant hatchery positions right now, we didn't get eggs for Raquette Lake last fall - there are a lot of things out there that we could be doing if DOB would allocate the money to DEC," he said. "What we're looking for is, the sportsmen put that money in, via license fees, for certain services, and we're not getting those services."

Assemblywoman Sayward says New York is home to some 1.4 million outdoor enthusiasts who generate an annual economic impact of about $6 billion. She notes that recent spikes in licensing fees for hunters and anglers have made those activities more expensive.

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