Coalition eyes funds for F&W
MONTPELIER — Groups representing thousands of hunters, hikers, birdwatchers, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts have thrown their collective weight behind boosting funding for the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife. Vermont has the highest percentage of wildlife watchers of any state.
A non-traditional coalition of 36 organizations, known as the Vermont Wildlife Partnership, is urging lawmakers to secure long-term funding for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, which finds itself increasingly stretched financially.
The Vermont Wild-life Partnership has come out in support of the recommendations made by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Task Force, a group appointed by Gov. Jim Douglas last year to investigate alternatives and make recommendations on sustainable funding sources.
"My hat is off to Governor Douglas on this issue," said George Gay, the executive director of The Northern Forest Alliance. "He picked a dynamic Task Force which, after a lot of hard work and public input, came up with a set of great recommendations. We need to act quickly on these ideas to ensure Vermont's hunting, trapping, and angling heritage, and to protect our waters and woods and fish and wildlife for generations to come," Gay said.
A dedicated and sustainable source of funding for the conservation of wildlife and natural places that enhance Vermonters' quality of life is a high-priority for the broad-based partnership.
Among the options laid out by the task force are a dedication to the department of one-eighth of one percent of the revenues from the sales tax, five year licenses for hunting/fishing /trapping, a dedicated state scratch-off lottery, and registration for non-motorized boats.
"We especially appreciate the recommendation to reallocate 1/8 of one percent of the state sales tax to the Fish and Wildlife department," said Steve Wright, a spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation in Montpelier, which is a member of the partnership.
"The dedication of this non-transferable source of revenue will ensure the long term financial health of the department, it acknowledges the value of wildlife to residents and non-residents alike, as well as future generations, and it places the responsibility to support the stewardship and protection of this valuable resource fairly on everyone's shoulders," Wright said.
Fish and Wildlife experts in the state of Vermont are responsible for a wide range of services to the public, ncluding conserving critical wildlife habitat, testifying in Act 250 cases, managing state hunting and fishing permits, enforcing state laws, maintaining fishing access areas and responding to homeowner calls about bears and other nuisance animals in their backyards.
But with declining revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, the Fish and Wildlife department budget is in the red to the tune of more than $3 million each year. Lack of funds has created staffing shortages in essential programs and is leaving federal dollars that require state matching funds on the table, putting wildlife and natural places at risk.
Vermonters fond of wildlife
Recent studies again confirmed the importance of wildlife-associated recreation and a healthy natural environment to Vermonters.
Vermont leads New England in hunters per capita. In 2001 there were 74,000 Vermont hunters and an additional 26,000 visitors who came to Vermont to hunt.
Wildlife-related expenditure in Vermont, for both wildlife watching, hunting and fishing, totaled $386 million in 2001.