West Virginia Sportsmen could face a serious reduction in hunting and fishing related activities amid maneuvering underway in Washington DC. The Office of Management and Budget, controlled by the White House, is threatening to sequester funds from the Pittman Robertson and Wallop-Breaux Act at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Those are funds paid by sportsmen when they buy guns, ammo, and fishing equipment. They’re earmarked under a 75-year old program which requires they be disbursed back to the states for the expressed and sole purpose of restoring wildlife and fisheries.
“We’re looking at about an $800,000 reduction,” said West Virginia DNR Wildlife Chief Curtis Taylor on Saturday’s Ram Trucks West Virginia Outdoors.
Thirty percent of the West Virginia DNR annual budget comes from the funds. The sequestration could amount to $150,000 in reduced game management funds. A $56,000 reduction is slated for research and restoration efforts and warmwater fisheries programs could suffer a $120,000 loss. The popular trout program could be cut by $150,000.
“Immediate impacts are we’ll see smaller trout and they’ll be stocked less frequently,” said Taylor.
Expensive trout food will be cut and fewer feedings will be made at the state’s hatcheries reducing the average size of put and take trout. The warmwater program will cut back on stockings of musky, walleye, striped bass, and channel cat fish.
The reductions in services on the game management side could be equally steep. Rifle ranges statewide would close and seasonal labor hired to pick up trash and mow various properties would be eliminated. Campgrounds would be closed on public hunting areas. There would be no new construction of boat ramps, rifle ranges, or any other public land development.
“They’re talking about doing this for nine years,” said Taylor. “At the end of nine years, we’ll be lucky to keep the lights on.”
Currently the law disallows Congress from touching the money. However, Gordon Robertson, vice-President of the American Sportfishing Association, says even that protection could be in jeopardy.
“Beyond a couple of years there are provisions that allow that money to go into the Treasury,” said Robertson. “Other provisions kick in and we’re not long down the road before that money is allocated to all sorts of places.”
The solution is a new federal budget. Robertson isn’t optimistic.
“Congress isn’t going to address this soon,” he said. “There’s a lot of speculation and a lot of posturing.”
Sequestration is a tool at the OMB’s disposal to secure any federal money and insure the budget is fully funded. However, Congress hasn’t passed a budget of late and the country’s spending is running on one continuing resolution after another.
Observers think sequestration may be an effort by the White House to force the hand of Congress. Others aren’t so sure because so many funds have been exempt. The wildlife and sport restoration funds do not enjoy an exemption and it’s shaping up to be a major hit on hunters and anglers nationwide.
“My personal opinion is that the White House doesn’t really care about hunters and anglers,” said Taylor. “I don’t think they have an inkling what this means to the economy of the country and West Virginia. Wildlife in West Virginia is a one-BILLION dollar industry.”
Taylor thinks the White House is serious about locking up the sportsmen’s money.
“I don’t think it’s alarmist at all. I think it’s time for hunters and anglers to stand up and be counted and let the politicians known how important this is to the nation’s economy,” Taylor said.
He urged West Virginia hunters, anglers, and even those who just enjoy the outdoors in a non-consumptive way to contact their members of Congress.
“We were told by a senior member of Congress that sportsmen need to ‘raise hell.'” Taylor added. “If this doesn’t wake them up I don’t know what will. This is their future and their grandkids future.”