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Washington’s games could cost U.S. sportsmen dearly

The federal deficit sits at $17 Trillion and growing.  It’s hard to stake out a sane position where continuing on such a path is a good idea.  Apparently the egos in Washington haven’t gotten the message and with no agreement on how to trim spending, sequestration is upon us. 

Sequestration is a series of automatic spending cuts designed to make sure the federal treasury has cash on hand to pay its bills.  However, a lot of weird things happen in Washington in the channels of money and cash flow.  Such is the case with a large amount of cash which doesn’t belong in Washington at all.

The money collected in the Pittman-Robertson, Dingle-Johnson, and Wallop-Breaux Acts is specifically designated to NOT be the federal government’s money to spend.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with collecting and redistributing the excise taxes to all 50-states based on an agreed upon and longstanding formula.   Under no circumstances can the money paid by hunters, fishermen, and other outdoors enthusiasts on guns, ammo, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel be used for anything other than conservation and wildlife habitat restoration.

Therefore, it makes no sense why the Sport Fish and Wildlife Resotration Funds are being kept in Washington as part of a sequester.  The sequestration is holding up anywhere from 7.5 to 10 percent of the money West Virginia would receive to help fund programs operated by the DNR.   If the holdup lasts it could start to be felt by sportsmen in the state.

DNR Wildlife Chief Curtis Taylor explained the first area where it will be felt is in fishing programs, especially trout stocking.  Trout food for the state’s hatcheries continues to increase in cost.   Fuel to operate the trucks on stocking runs is also going up.  However, West Virginia is a “minimal state” when it comes to the level of funds it enjoys for fishing conservation and restoration from the program.  We are a state with very little water when compared to state’s on the coast or with vast lakes.   Expect reduced stockings, reduced poundage of fish, and other noticeable changes if things continue.

Hunting programs in West Virignia won’t be nearly as impacted.   The insulation is two-fold.  First, West Virginia enjoys a greater share of the hunting side of the excise tax revenue because of our high number of license holders and considerable land for hunting.    Secondly, the sales of guns and ammo, on which the tax is based, have skyrocketed in the last five years.   West Virginia will actually enjoy a windfall.  Taylor says they are conservatively estimating the increase could be 30-percent in the coming fiscal year.   However, whatever the increase it will be below what it might have been without sequestration.  Plus money collected for wildlife cannot be used for fish management .

There’s another gut wrentching fear among wildlife and fisheries professionsals.   Since Congress can’t spend the money, they are forced to hold it in an account.  The longer the sequestration goes, the larger that pot of money will become.   Fish and game officials worrry Congress will be tempted to meddle with the 75 year old programs designed for hunting and fishing concerns.  Congress could quietly pass legislation to redirect the money elsewhere.   Such action would be a disaster to hunting, fishing, and all other wildlife or fish related matters.

Collective teams representing Departments of Natural Resources in every state have reportedly engaged in high level meetings with the bureaucracy in Washington. However, their best efforts to convince the feds to release the money have fallen on deaf ears. Taylor said there’s no reason whatsoever to withhold the funding.  

He’s right. There is no reason to withhold the funding. Holding the money in Washington does nothing to curb spending or eat away at the massive defecit.   The money is a speck when compared to the Pentagon or Health and Human Resources.   The Sportfish Resotration money should flow uninterrupted back to the state’s where it’s designated and in the amounts designated by the laws which allowed for its collection in the first place.   The funding comes from a tax sportsmen and sporting goods companies voluntarily agreed to pay.  It was literally payment forward to insure the future of hunting, fishing, and wildlife and fish in this country.    It has no place being tied up in a partisan battle among groups whose egos have literally written checks the nation cannot cash.

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