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Area outdoor sports enthusiasts meet licensing changes with skepticism

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed changes to the state’s hunting and fishing licensing system received mixed reviews at an informational meeting Thursday night hosted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

A small but passionate group of outdoor enthusiasts gathered on the 11th floor of the Dulles State Office Building to hear a presentation about the new system from DEC regional fisheries biologist Russell D. McCullough and senior wildlife biologist Andrew J. MacDuff.

The goal of the proposed changes, which were included in the 30-day amendments to the governor’s 2013-14 executive budget, is “to foster the recruitment and retention of hunters, anglers and trappers — both from New York and out-of-state” by reducing the types of licenses offered from 17 to eight and lowering fees across the board.

The changes, if adopted, will go into effect Feb. 1.

Opening the floor for questions, the DEC representatives were bombarded with an array of concerns, including several associated with the drop in revenue the lower fees would yield.

While representatives acknowledged that the $51 million per year now generated by hunting and fishing licensing would drop to $46 million if the changes were adopted, they said conservation funds will remain solvent through 2018-19.

Burnie V. Haney, chairman of the Jefferson County Sport Fishimg Advisory Board, voiced his concerns both during and after the meeting.

“The reduction in funds we’re going to collect here, how’s that going to translate to sustainment? How would that impact maintenance for fish hatcheries?” Mr. Haney asked.

Mitchell L. Franz, another member of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board and vice president of the Henderson Harbor Guides Association, said the state already has many sportsmen coming in from out of state and should not be giving its natural resources away.

“New York ranks third in the nation in the number of hunters and ninth in the nation with the number of nonresident hunters. Are we going to give our good hunting and fishing away?” he asked.

Carl F. Fitzsimmons, Theresa, a volunteer hunter safety trainer, presented a counterargument, saying that his friends from Connecticut who own land in New York state come here often to hunt and give business to restaurants, motels and area residents even when they don’t walk away with a deer.

According to Mr. Haney, looking for innovative ways to foster interest and participation in hunting and fishing may be the only way to ensure the sports continue to enjoy a place among the treasured pastimes of north country residents.

“As we continue to see a decrease in participation, a decrease in fees may not be a bad idea in a down economy,” he said.

DEC will host more meetings in the coming weeks. Residents with concerns about the new system are encouraged to attend or send their comments to the DEC public affairs office at public@gw.dec.state.ny.us. Times and locations of meetings will be forthcoming.

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