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Final Testimony Letter - February 2012

CFAB Correspondence

The following is a web version of the correspondence letter; a printable PDF Version (49 KB) is also available to view.

Impacts of the 2012-13 Proposed Budget on the Staffing Levels and Programs of the NYSDEC Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources

Testimony of Jason Kemper, Chairman, NYS Conservation Fund Advisory Board

February 7, 2012

Good morning, my name is Jason Kemper and I am the current Chairman of the NYS Conservation Fund Advisory Board. The Conservation Fund Advisory Board (CFAB) as established in ECL (Section 11-0327) is charged with ensuring that the money in the Conservation Fund is spent specifically for the care, management, protection, and enhancement of the fish and game resources of the state and the promotion of public fishing, hunting, and trapping, and that these funds are used in accordance with State Finance Law (Section 83-Conservation Fund). The main source of revenue for the Conservation Fund is the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses. The sale of these licenses generates approximately $47 million dollars per year and leverages roughly $20 million dollars a year in federal aid. The Conservation Fund used to pay for a majority of the salary and non-personnel service costs within the NYS DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.

It is important to remember that the majority of the testimony you have or will be hearing today deals with NYS General Fund dollars. That is not the case with the Conservation Fund, the major revenue generator for this fund are license fees paid for by the sportsmen of this state with the expectation that they would be used to support staff and program in the NYS DEC's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.

Due to financial shortfalls in the Conservation Fund, the sportsmen community was faced with a dilemma during late 2008 and early 2009. Either they would need to pay increased or additional fees for their licenses (approx. 20-30%) or they would see a diminished level of service over what they have received in the past. Reluctantly, the Conservation Fund Advisory Board, on behalf of license buyers, stepped up to the plate to support the license fee increase with the expectation and guarantee that there would be no decrease in the level of service or non-personal service costs from previous years. These license fee increases were enacted as part of the 2009 budget and the sportsmen began paying the increased fees in August of 2009. Despite the increased revenue to the Conservation Fund, during fiscal year 2009-2010 the NYS Division of Budget (DOB) reduced Conservation Fund allocations by 26% over what was enacted in the budget (see table 5 in 2009-2010 CFAB annual report). During the 2010/11 fiscal year the allocations from DOB were reduced by another 40% over the previous year's reductions. The 2011/2012 allocations from DOB were sustained at the 2010/2011 reduced levels despite a growing balance in the Conservation Fund. These reductions occurred at the same time that the license fee increase was providing a significant increase in revenue to the Conservation Fund (traditional account) compared to previous years. As a result of the policies of the DOB, the December 2011 balance in the Conservation Fund has exceeded $40 million dollars.

Misuse of Conservation Fund Dollars
The Board was notified last week that some of the vacant Fish Hatchery positions were filled. Keep in mind that the Conservation Fund Advisory Board has sent numerous correspondences on the hatchery staffing issue to the Governor's Office, Division of Budget and members of the Assembly and Senate dating back to August of 2010. During the time of the vacancies, cutbacks in production and egg take at the hatcheries resulted in less fish being stocked in NYS waters.

In reviewing the Governor's proposed budget, there is a proposal to shift an additional 65 Environmental Conservation Officers (ECO's) onto the Conservation Fund. It is my understanding that this is in addition to the 20 ECO's that were placed onto the Conservation Fund in December of 2011. The CFAB finds it extremely frustrating that vacated positions in the DFWMR are not allowed to be filled, but yet approximately $8 million dollars of ECO personnel service time can be proposed to be placed onto the Conservation Fund without any discussion or consideration for the vacancies that exist in the DFWMR.

The license fee increase took effect in August of 2009, at that time there were 412 staff persons assigned to the Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources (DFWMR), 189 DFWMR staff on the Conservation Fund Main Account and 203 total staff being charged to the Conservation Fund Main Account. The December 2011 filled position report indicated that there are now 349 staff persons assigned to the Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources, 228 DFWMR staff on the Conservation Fund Main Account, and 259 total DEC staff on the Conservation Fund. Since the license fee increase, the sportsmen have lost the services of 63 staff persons from the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, there are 39 more positions in the DFWMR being charged to the CF Main Account, and there are 56 more total DEC staff being funded out of the Conservation Fund. In essence, what is happening is the sportsmen in this state are paying for more of DEC's fish and wildlife program and receiving less support than they ever have in the past. See table below for details:

Filled Position Report
August 2009 December 2011 Staff (+/-)
Total staff in the
Division of Fish, Wildlife and
Marine Resources (DFWMR)
412 349 -63
Total DFWMR staff
on Conservation Fund
189 228 +39
Total Department (DEC) staff
on Conservation Fund
203 259 +56

The Conservation Fund is mainly supported by license dollars paid by the sportsmen of New York State. The CFAB urges the Governor and all elected officials to do whatever is necessary to ensure that these funds can be spent consistent with the, at least perceived, notion that DEC's fish and wildlife program would provide services at the 2008-09 level, if not enhanced services at this level of expenditures as government efficiency becomes increasingly rooted in New York State.

Statewide E-Licensing Program
In September of 2010, DEC staff advised the board that DECALS was proposed to be incorporated into the statewide E-Licensing program. DECALS is a license issuing and reporting program, that for the past few years, has been paid entirely out of the Conservation Fund by the sportsmen license buying community. There were numerous questions posted to the previous administration and DOB on this issue that have never been addressed. Incorporating DECALS into the statewide E-Licensing system has possibly forced the sportsmen to pay for an interim license system until the statewide E-Licensing system is implemented. DEC is currently scheduled to be placed in the E-Licensing program during Phase 5 of the program. The current contract with Verizon on DECALS is through May of 2012 (DEC is seeking extension to 12/31/2013). If DECALS is not incorporated into the first phase of E-Licensing then the sportsmen could be paying in excess of $12-$15 million dollars for an interim license system that will only be used for a short period of time. In addition, the sportsmen of this state need some assurances that no matter what license issuing system is ultimately used, that it be fully operational when the DECALS contract expires.

Public Outreach
With the drastic cutbacks in non-personal service, travel has been virtually eliminated for a majority of the meetings with fish and wildlife program constituents. This provided an excellent dialogue between DEC staff and the communities that have interest in New York's wildlife resources. Financial support for Conservation Fund Advisory Board members travel to these meetings was also curtailed, resulting in reduced information to the sportsmen community. In addition, travel and meeting funds have been eliminated for the Fish and Wildlife Management Board. As a result, the sportsmen community believes that they are getting less and less from the DFWMR and the staff they fund. The cutbacks in travel have also led to the elimination of a lot of the creel survey work, pond research and response to nuisance wildlife calls. These assessment efforts are the evaluation tolls necessary to make sure the programs are wisely and effectively implemented.

Conclusion
It is evident from the information CFAB has received that the money collected from the sporting community is not being used in the manner it was intended to when the license fee increase was initiated. As I stated earlier, these funds are not NYS General Funds they are license fee dollars that were collected from the sportsmen to support staff and programs in the Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources. The CFAB would like the support of the Senate and Assembly in initiating a significant license fee decrease if the current vacancies in the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources are not filled immediately. This license fee decrease will spur participation in hunting, fishing, and trapping and foster the economic benefits derived from increased recreation activity. During Governor Cuomo's press conference (Aug. 2011) on the repeal of the Recreational Marine Fishing License, he made the point that the license fees were unfair and caused a negative impact to the local economy. Reduced Conservation Fund allocations have resulted in reduced fish and wildlife program delivery and a significant balance in the Conservation Fund. There is no need to carry this large balance with the current staffing levels in the Division of Fish, Wildlife, and Marine Resources so reduced revenues and reduced fees seem to be completely in order and are consistent with Governor Cuomo's messages

Thank you for your time, I look forward to working with you on the issues relating to the Conservation Fund in the future.

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