Mike Bleech: State’s fish and game agencies are at a potential tipping point

Wise natural resources conservation is an investment that pays big dividends.

Both of our state outdoors sports agencies — the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Game Commission — are facing difficult budget crunches. This means hunters, trappers, anglers and boaters are faced with fewer services.

A quick look at the budget shows that the Game Commission derives 33 percent of revenues from the sale of licenses. Another 25 percent comes from federal aid reimbursements, which are raised by excise taxes on the sale of hunting and related gear. Natural resources bring in 30 percent, and the sale of timber, 6 percent. Fines account for just 1 percent of revenues.

The Fish and Boat Commission budget shows that 64 percent of revenues are derived from the sales of licenses and fees. Another 26 percent come from federal and state grants. A mere .1 percent comes from fines and penalties.

At this point stop and think about the nonsense you may hear about fines and penalties being any sort of money grab by either agency.

We can see that hunters, trappers, anglers and boaters fund both conservation agencies through license sales. Outdoors sports enthusiasts pay for federal grants through taxes they pay on specialized gear. With the Game Commission, timber sales and natural resources are derived from state game lands that were bought and are maintained by hunters and trappers.

Where does the money go?

The Game Commission spends about 43 percent of its budget on wildlife habitat management and another 20 percent on wildlife protection. Administration spends about 12 percent; information and education, 5 percent; the executive office, 4 percent; and another 4 percent for automated technology services.

The Fish and Boat Commission spends about 70 percent on personnel and 24 percent on operating costs. Grants account for 3 percent of expenditures, fixed assets for 2 percent.

All of this information is based on 2016 budgets.

I see no fat in either agency’s budget.

I do not want to slight the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which also runs efficiently. But its funding comes from the state’s general fund, whereas hunters, trappers, anglers and boaters completely fund their respective agencies.

The Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission now are at the point where expenditures must be trimmed. Outdoors sports enthusiasts again must take it on the chin. Services will have to be cut. Some have been.

However, the general public derives more benefits from these two excellent conservation agencies than the outdoors people who fund them. Let’s take a look at the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation’s Pennsylvania data, which was revised in 2014.

The Pennsylvania economy comes out as the big winner of the benefits. Among the 4.6 million participants in wildlife-related recreation, 17 percent are hunters, 45 percent are anglers, and 79 percent are wildlife watchers. These figures do not add up to 100 percent because there is a lot of cross-over. Many people participate in multiple wildlife-related activities.

All of these people combined annually spend a total of $2.8 billion in Pennsylvania. Equipment accounted for 57 percent, trip-related expenses, 24 percent; and 19 percent for other things.

Wise natural resources conservation is an investment that pays big dividends. Also consider what it means for future Pennsylvanians and for the quality of life here.

Sportsmen have long opposed outside funding for the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission out of fear that non-sportspersons will gain more control of the agencies.

Politicians have long tied general state funding for the agencies to more political control over them.

Agree or disagree, now is the time to let your state legislators know how you feel. We are at a potential tipping point on wildlife conservation.

Mike Bleech can be reached by e-mail at mikeb73@verizon.net. Read more of his columns at nwpaoutdoors.com.


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