Bill sets up fight over who can advise DEC on hunting and fishing policies

Photo by F. Eugene Hester

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a champion of animal rights, has committed her support to a bill that would change who can serve on the sportsmen-funded advisory board that makes recommendations on the state’s fish and wildlife policies and regulations.

The bill (S.3327/A.6519) seeks to change the language in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s rules that currently state “At the time of designation, Conservation Fund Advisory Board members must hold a valid New York state hunting, fishing or trapping license and have held one three years prior.”

Rosenthal, who is no stranger to animal rights legislation, having pushed for the regulation of puppy mills and the statewide banning of cat de-clawing, joins seven other Assembly members in supporting the legislation. The prime sponsor in the Assembly is Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers.

“Last I checked, the DEC’s role is not merely to create an environment hospitable to hunting and gaming, but it is, as its name suggests, to conserve the environment,” said Rosenthal, D-Manhattan. “Wildlife is critical to preserving our state’s natural environment, and it is vital that DEC represent its diverse responsibilities to New York. Ensuring that the DEC is reflective of its mission is a key step in ensuring that the DEC is a better partner with advocates and legislators in animal protection.”

As an example of how hunters and sportsmen influence policy, Rosenthal points to a DEC program that she says propagates pheasants for the sole purpose of allowing them to be hunted.

“The state agency that is charged with protecting our wildlife breeds birds just so that they can be killed,” said the assemblywoman. “If the animals are lucky enough to live through the hunting season, they can look forward to a slow death from exposure. I have a bill to ban the practice, which is inhumane and runs counter to everything that the DEC should be about.

“Changing the composition of the DEC’s board would help to put an end to inhumane practices like this in the future.”

The bill, originally introduced in the Senate in January by frequent animal right advocate Senator Tony Avella, D-Queens, would amend state Conservation Law requiring that a member of the CFAB hold a New York state hunting and fishing license for three years to demonstrate their “long-standing interest, knowledge, and experience in fish and wildlife management.”

The function of CFAB is to advise state agencies with information on the effect that programs and policy may have on New York state’s wildlife. They also issue annual reports to the DEC commissioner on the financial needs of various wildlife programs and how to meet those needs.

The bill’s intent, according to its sponsors, is to increase the diversity of the DEC advisory board by eliminating the hunting and fishing license as a requirement, making it a factor in the appointment process, but not a necessity. This would allow the appointment of board members who may come from a different background than hunting and fishing.

The CFAB is charged with reviewing DEC allocations for fish and wildlife purposes, releasing reports to the state’s sporting community, consulting with fish and wildlife interests and providing annual reports to the Commissioner of DEC on fiscal needs, providing advice on the needs of various fish and wildlife programs, and encouraging public participation in fishing, hunting and trapping to promote conservation and management of the state’s natural resources.

According to the bill memo, the “broad and important goals” of the CFAB, “can more adequately be met by making the mandatory hunting, fishing or trapping license requirement discretionary.” This change would allow for the appointment of people with “equally substantial interest, knowledge and experience beyond the scope of hunting, fishing and trapping.”

Supporters of the bill say the current rules on who can sit on the CFAB have resulted in a “virtual nightmare” for New York’s wildlife, and DEC decisions about wildlife management are “overwhelmingly cruel, one-sided and destructive.”

“This bill must pass in order to correct a terrible, grossly unfair law that never should have been enacted in the first place,” says Kiley Blackman, founder of Animal Defenders of Westchester, who originally brought the law’s current stipulation to the attention of Senator Avella. “All citizens have a right to provide input into the treatment of our wildlife, not just those who want to kill them.”

However, Bill Conners, secretary of Conservation Fund Advisory Board, expressed his dismay that appointees of the board, which the DEC relies on to fund projects and draws its revenue largely by the money generated by the sales of the fishing, hunting and trapping licenses, could be compromised by the removal of the licensing requirement.

“I find it inconceivable that someone — indeed, anyone — would be extended the privilege of sitting on the Conservation Fund Advisory Board who is not vested in the solvency of the fund,” Conners said. “The purchase of a license turns a bystander into a stakeholder. This is very little to ask of anyone who claims to be committed to the management and conservation of this state’s fish and wildlife resources.”

Both bills are currently in the Environmental Conservation committees in each house.