Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some thoughts on the Gov's. proposal to cut $5 million from fishing and hunting programs

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Yesterday, I listened in on the California State Senate's Committee on the Budget and Fiscal Review, to hear how the Committee would consider the Governor's proposed $5 million cut from the General Fund contribution to Program 25, the Hunting and Fishing Program at the Dept. of Fish & Game.
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Last year, this program received $37 million from user fees (hunting and fishing licenses, entry fees, etc.), and typically, these are supplemented with $15 million from the State General Fund.

Administration officials explained that this amounted to a less than 10% reduction in the program, and assured the Committee that the cuts would not impact endangered species programs, the Marine Life Protection Act, or law enforcement.

After each budget proposal is made, the Legislative Analysts Office (LAO) makes its recommendations, and in this case, the LAO recommended the cut, with the caveat that the Legislature and Governor's office meet to set specific priorities for programs impacted by the cut, pointing out that this program receives some federal matching funds. (One factually misleading statement the LAO made was that these cuts would not impact fees. However, I ask you: if a fishing dock is closed, or if a waterfowl refuge is closed, will these impact fees? Why yes, you are correct, they would impact fees.)

After the LAO's comments, anybody in public can speak (even you). Representatives from two groups commented on the proposed cut: the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA), and Defenders of Wildlife. I was happy to see them both, but I was surprised at the outcome.

COHA's representative spoke first, and the first thing he did was concur with the LAO's recommendation. He immediately said that his constituents' interests needed to be protected, and that this cut would/could impact them, but that they were willing to talk with the Legislature and Administration to figure out how to allocate the cut.

At this point, the Chair of the Committee (Sen. Ducheny) asked about the possibility of raising hunting and fishing fees. Her actual words were, "have we looked at fees?" COHA pointed out that fishing and hunting fees were adjusted annually, and that this system isn't exactly fair, in that hunters and fishers pay for access to places other people use for free.

Then the Defenders' representative spoke, and she did not concur with the cut, but instead compared it to last year's $30 million dollar cut to the Department, which was backfilled by Preservation Fund money (which includes hunting and fishing fees). She also said that the vast majority of these cuts would go to sportfishing programs and management.

I don't understand a couple of things. First, I don't understand COHA's decision to agree to a 33% cut to General Fund money to a program that COHA already believes is unfairly funded. Second, I don't understand, in light of Defenders' comments, why the sportfishing people weren't out to defend their program's funding.

By the end of the short session, I was impressed with Defenders' position, and I look forward to help them keep our hunting and fishing programs intact, for ourselves and our children. I also hope other groups will help step in to defend hunting and fishing as endeavors worth supporting and fostering. If you are a member of Defenders, COHA, or any other hunting or fishing group, I highly recommend a call to your representatives, as well as a call to your groups' folks, to let them know that you support their efforts at keeping all of our funding.

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