New York Could Lose Millions in Wildlife Funds

New York Could Lose Millions in Wildlife Funds
New York governor’s budget proposes a raid on the NY conservation funds.
By Justin McDaniel

Fairfax, VA--( The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is facing the loss of up to $20 million from its share of federal Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funding as the result of a budget proposal that would allow New York’s Department of Budget (DOB) to tap into the state’s conservation fund.

The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Acts levy an excise tax on the sale of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing equipment, motorboat and small engine fuels, and this money is returned to the states each year via grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

State fish and wildlife agencies in turn use these funds to manage fish and wildlife populations, acquire and improve habitat, fund hunter education, provide public hunting, fishing and boating access, and build and maintain public shooting ranges, among others. Hunters and anglers have contributed an astounding $13.7 billion in these excise taxes since 1937.

But in order to receive this valuable federal funding, which is allotted based on a formula that accounts for a state’s land area and total number of paid hunting and fishing license holders, states must agree not to spend license money and other dedicated wildlife funding on purposes outside of wildlife conservation. If they do, they risk losing their federal apportionments.

Such is the case in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2011-2012 budget allows the DOB to use money from the conservation fund to balance the state’s budget, a proposal that has put the USFWS on notice.

“Even if the DOB has no intent on using conservation fund money for other reasons than its intent, the fact that the budget allows for them to do so is enough for the USFWS to withhold P-R (Pittman-Robertson) and other funding,” DEC Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Assistant Director Doug Stang said July 5 in the Register-Star. “The conservation fund would be in deep trouble without it.”

New York originally had until July 15 to address concerns raised by the USFWS about the diversion of wildlife funds, but the state was given a 30-day extension to amend its budget or risk losing the federal money.

“The Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson programs provide crucial funding to manage the nation’s wildlife and fisheries,” said Hannibal Bolton, Assistant Director of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. “The Fish and Wildlife Service closely monitors situations such as this one in New York and stands ready to take the necessary action.”

For fiscal year 2011, New York was apportioned $9,133,327 in Dingell-Johnson and $11,215,150 in Pittman-Robertson grant funding—for a grand total of $20,348,477.

New York could now be in jeopardy of losing some or all of that money.

“This issue needs to get fixed and fixed faster than the federal government wants to pull our funding,” said New York Sportfishing Federation Director Bob Danielson. “In this fiscal climate we need every dollar we can get.”

This isn’t the first time a state has proposed to divert wildlife funds. Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, New Jersey and South Dakota have all been guilty in the past of trying to use hunters’ dollars to boost their bottom lines.

It’s also not the first time a New York governor has raided —or proposed to raid— the conservation fund. Former Gov. Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, raided the fund to the tune of $20 million in 1990, although $15 million was later returned.

Now, 21 years later, history stands to repeat itself, unless New York rescinds the language in its budget that allows for conservation fund dollars to be used for something other than their intended purpose.

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Take the dollars from NY they are fiscally irresponsible. NYS politicians should be jailed for fraud against the taxpayers