West Virginia fishermen will probably be the first to notice a difference should the sequestration of federal money happen on Saturday. The automatic spending cuts in Washington would trigger a hold on Pittman-Robertson and Dingel-Johnson funds which are the lifeblood of state wildlife and fisheries agency budgets.
There is consternation over the sequestration because the money is collected from outdoor gear manufacturers as an exciste tax and by law cannot be used by the federal government. It is redistributed back to the states based on their number of hunting and fishing license holders.
“The entire wildlife community is just flabbergasted this money would be messed with in any way, shape, or fashion,” said West Virginia DNR Chief of Wildlife Curtis Taylor. “In 1937 when this act was passed on the game management side, there were words added to prevent just this thing. This is a purely Washington DC deal. That money belongs to the sportsmen of the states it’s not for Washington to spend.”
Despite the best efforts of state wildlife agencies, it’s likely the return of the money which comes from an excise tax on the purchase of guns, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and motor boat fuel will be cut between 7.6 and 10 percent. The cuts could possibly be in place for the next ten years according to Taylor. The money would be placed into a fund and held rather than spent, but it would be inaccessible to each state’s DNR.
Taylor said the West Virginia DNR is planning for the reduction.
“The biggest impacts we are looking at in terms of West Virginia sportsmen will be on the fishing side,” Taylor explained. “It will have definite implications on what we’re able to stock, how many fish we can raise, the trout program is heavily funded by these dollars.”
Taylor said the DNR is considering changing some weekly trout stocking waters to bi-weekly waters, bi-weekly waters may become monthly, and some could go away to save on the cost of fuel for the stock trucks. Construction and development of lake and river access points would also come to a grinding halt.
“We’ve got to remove some of the services we provide,” Taylor said. “That’s the only way you can save substantial amounts of money.”
The wildlife funding from the excise tax will also be reduced by 7.6 to 10 percent, but the cuts won’t be as noticeable to hunters and wildlife enthusiasts because collections have exploded with the sale of guns and ammunition in recent months.
“As of last month we have accumulated almost $300-Million for the entire country for fiscal year 2013,” Taylor said. “We’re planning a minimum of a 30-percent increase in PR funds for West Virginia. That’s very conservative.”
Still Taylor said the increase is a double-edged sword because West Virginia, and other states, will not receive as much of the money as it could have to benefit programs for wildlife management and restoration.
“I was raised in McDowell County and if you owe me $100 and only give me $90, I still want my $100,” Taylor said.
Taylor also noted the DNR cannot use money derived from wildlife funds to subsidize fishing programs. The feds take a dim view of misappropriating the money.
Each state receives a base minimum share of the Pittman-Robertson and Dingel-Johnson funds. West Virginia is a “minimum state” for fishing money. However, West Virginia receives a greater share of the Pittman-Robertson funds because of its high percentage of licensed hunters.
The difficulty facing West Virginia will be having the money on hand to match the increased federal aid dollars. The state spends the money and is reimbursed.
“We’re looking four years down the road, trying to make sure we have enough money to match the increase in federal aid,” Taylor said. “It’s a good place to be, but you better be thinking about it right now.”
You can click the Audio Icon to hear a full interview with Taylor about he impact sequestration would have on West Virginia sportsmen.