For anyone who cares about how our wildlife is treated you know that the way the NH Fish and Game Dept. is governed has to end. Hunters and trappers run the department in the form of the NHFG Commission. This study commission written about below was a farce. To give you an example, this study commission was to have one person from the general public on it. The person selected as a member of the general public was Bill Carney, a former NHFG Commission member and a writer for the hunter magazine Hawkeye. He attends every NHFG meeting to push his hunting agenda. The rest of the panel was mostly more of the same. It is no surprise all they were concerned about is how the agency is funded.
Please remember this as we go into the 2019 legislative session and when NHFG wants funding from the general fund, or they try to legislate other fundraisers, let your legislators know, NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!
Panel offers prescription for struggling wildlife agency
By DAVE SOLOMON New Hampshire Union Leader Nov 25, 2018
CONCORD — A slight hike in the rooms and meals tax, a $1 million increase in support from the state general fund and a mandatory registration fee for canoes and kayaks are among the recommendations to emerge from yet another study on the future of the Fish and Game Department.
The 12-member commission, comprised of lawmakers, agency personnel and stakeholders, has submitted its final report to the Legislature with this caveat: “It’s time for New Hampshire to realize what outdoor recreation means to the quality of life and the economy of this state.”
Underlying the report is a recurring theme. New Hampshire’s spectacular wildlife and outdoor resources are essential to the success of the state’s tourism industry, yet the funding for the agency charged with managing those resources does not reflect that reality.
As revenues from hunting licenses declines and demands on the agency increase, the self-reliant funding model has been stretched to the breaking point.
Since 2014 nearly $4.2 million has been allocated to Fish and Game from the state general fund to shore up its wobbly finances, with little likelihood that the agency will ever be fully self-funded again, absent some major changes.
This is not a new problem. The commission that recently wrapped up its work, chaired by outgoing Republican Sen. Kevin Avard of Nashua, is the third such group convened by the Legislature in the past four years.
Fish and Game study commissions in 2013 and 2014 issued reports that called for a new fee of $10 a year on non-motorized watercraft (motorboats already pay); and a thorough examination of whether the time has come to fund Fish and Game like other state agencies, through the state general fund.
The only thing to come from those commissions was a $10-a-year increase in hunting and fishing license fees that took effect in 2016, and yet another study commission in 2018.
Unlike the previous two commissions, Avard’s group was much larger and had representatives from all the stakeholder groups, including both “consumptive” users (hunters, trappers) and “non-consumptive” stakeholders (hikers, kayakers).
“The commission has learned the funding needed to support the department’s budget has not kept pace with the cost of services it provides,” writes Avard in the introduction to the commission report. “The commission believes steps must be taken in the near future to correct the budget issues that are constraining the department’s capacity to meet its mission.”
Those steps include:
• Leverage the rooms and meals tax. This recommendation includes an increase of one-eighth of 1 percent in the rooms and meals tax, now at 9 percent, with all the new money dedicated to Fish and Game.
Avard told commission members this was a “non-starter” with a Republican majority in the House and Senate, but now he is not so sure. “That was based on past history,” he said. “I don’t know what this new Legislature is going to do.”
The commission also recommends dedicating to Fish and Game the roughly $250,000 in rooms and meals taxes collected annually from the Appalachian Mountain Club for its huts and lodges.
The AMC does not pay the 9 percent tax on dinners and breakfasts it serves, which lawmakers should address, and direct the money to Fish and Game, according to the report.
• Get more federal money. Under this recommendation, the federal government would be billed for all the work of conservation officers patrolling the White Mountain National Forest and for rescues on the federal lands, which account for nearly 50 percent of all hiker rescues in the state.
“It is estimated these annual costs come close to $150,000 and need to be addressed now,” the report states.
• Get enforcement out of the courts. A majority of commission members would like to see Fish and Game conduct its own administrative hearings on violations and collect the fines, rather than see much of the money go into the court system. Off Highway Recreational Vehicle violations could be a particularly lucrative source of revenue.
“This would also lessen the burden on our court system and is already being done by the Department of Safety with success,” according to the report.
The hearings would be conducted by a hearings officer and, according to another recommendation, the department would obtain authority from the legislature to coordinate with the DMV and suspend a driver’s license as a penalty for non-payment. “It’s called holding a big stick,” said Avard.
Spreading the burden
• Get kayak and canoe owners to pay up. The fact that motorboat owners have to pay a license to fund the public boat launches and marine enforcement while canoe and kayak owners do not, seems unfair to many commission members, who noted, “the department maintains many car-top access sites that are only accessible to canoes and kayaks, but are paid for by a fee assessed only to motorboat owners when they register.”
The idea of a registration fee on canoes and kayaks launched from public launches has been defeated in the past as a new tax or fee.
Another option suggested in the report is a voluntary boat decal for non-power boats and a Wildlife Conservation Stamp for license plates.
“This fund could easily surpass the Hike Safe Card revenues and provide a mechanism for promoting participation by the under-represented, non-consumptive users,” according to the report.
Another alternative would be to create a Boat Safe Card similar to the Hike Safe Card.
• Get more money from the state. The commission called for an increase of $1 million a year in state appropriations to Fish and Game from the general fund. Since 2014, annual appropriations have ranged from $890,000 to $600,000.
The commission would also like to see the state through its general fund pay the retirement benefits of Fish and Game conservation officers, as it does for other state employees.
Whether any of these recommendations are adopted depends on the incoming legislature. Although signed by all 12 commission members, the report is not a unanimous prescription for change.
“I left it so everyone could have their voice,” said Avard. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we all agree on every aspect. That’s an impossibility.”
Jim Morse is president of the N.H. Wildlife Federation, which describes itself as the “leading advocate for the promotion and protection of hunting, fishing and trapping.”
He served on the commission and says his group supports most of the recommendations.
One group that does not agree with the commission’s approach is Voices of Wildlife in New Hampshire, which had hoped for a change in the composition of the Fish and Game Commission to better represent passive users of wildlife resources.
“The commission was supposed to make recommendations to improve management, the department’s name and organizational and structural improvements, not just revenue,” says Linda Dionne, president of VOW-NH. “We are not impressed with the recommendations of the commission as they missed the mark in numerous ways.”
That group supported changing the department’s name as recommended by in a 2008 legislative audit to something like Department of Wildlife, and making the Fish and Game Commission an advisory body. That would put policy decisions in the hands of the professional staff.
“The study commission became the voice of Fish and Game when it asked for all sorts of funding from the general public without offering to make changes that truly welcome participation by the general public and those who enjoy only non-consumptive activities related to wildlife,” said Dionne.
“It is time for the executive branch to step in and change the governance of NHFG to bring this state agency into the 21st century as an agency that’s no longer under the thumb of the hunting lobbies and represents all of the people of New Hampshire.”
Lindsay Hamrick, state director for the Humane Society, sounded a similar note.
“We are disappointed that there was not a broader conversation regarding the governance of Fish and Game,” she said. “
“A variety of the recommendations from the study commission require input from non-sportsmen user groups, yet those user groups were not integrated into the study commission nor are they given a seat on the commission. We will, once again, be advocating for broader representation on the Fish and Game Commission during the state budget process in 2019.”
CONCORD — The bobcat battle is far from over.A committee of the state Legislature still has to approve the rules for the controversial hunt recently approved by the Fish and Game Commission in a 4-5 vote, and plans to hold a hearing on April 1 in Representatives Hall, the largest venue available.
Outdoor columnist John Harrigan from Colebrook, a leader in the opposition to the hunt, said opponents are marshalling their forces for the April 1 hearing.
“There is tremendous communication,” he said. “We all know what’s going on with the Legislature. We have a lot of people in the Legislature who are solidly with us on this, many of them from longtime hunting families who live in rural New Hampshire and they hate this thing.”
The vote in favor of the hunt a week ago Wednesday came after months of debate, several well-attended public hearings and heavy lobbying on both sides. Hundreds testified both for and against the hunt, while thousands submitted written comments, some from other parts of the country.
The commission has proposed issuing 50 bobcat permits, at a cost of $100 each, through a lottery process. The hunting season would be similar to New Hampshire’s fisher season, with December trapping and January hunting.
Those rules and others governing the hunt have to be approved by a committee of House and Senate members known as the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, which is required by statute to approve the rule-making of state agencies.
A final proposal for a limited bobcat season was filed with JLCAR on Wednesday by the Department of Fish and Game. The proposal was submitted in time to be included on the March 18 agenda for the rules committee, but it will not be discussed at that time. At its last meeting on Feb. 19, the JLCAR decided that the bobcat proposal would be postponed to a continued meeting on April 1, when Representatives Hall is available.
More than 25 written comments have already been received by the rules committee, all of them opposed to the hunt, with many more expected in the weeks ahead.
Scott Eaton, Administrative Rules Director in the Office of Legislative Services, says the JLCAR has a variety of options in reviewing the proposed rules.
“The committee is not a policy committee,” said Eaton. “It cannot substitute its judgment for the Fish and Game Department, not on technical areas of expertise that have been delegated (by the Legislature) to the Fish and Game Department.”
That said, the committee does have the power to object to the rules or to approve them with conditions, citing any number of criteria outlined in state statute, such as agency authority or legislative intent.
The rules aren’t beyond the authority of Fish and Game, nor are they likely to be deemed contrary to legislative intent. It’s more likely that opponents will hang their hats on the criteria of “contrary to public interest,” which contains a requirement for “responsiveness.”
“Under responsiveness, if someone complains that their arguments were not overruled on the merits, but that the commission just didn’t consider them, the committee can ask the department to provide evidence to the contrary,” said Eaton.
If the JLCAR objects to the rules, Fish and Game will have an opportunity to amend them, withdraw them altogether or make no changes.
If the department decides it wants to go forward, and the committee feels the issue is serious enough to refer to the full Legislature, it can vote to sponsor a joint resolution to go before the House and Senate.
A vote by the committee on a joint resolution, should it come to that, would only impose a temporary stay on the adoption of the rules. “It’s not the committee that can stop the rule permanently,” said Eaton. “Only the Legislature can do that.”