After passing the NH Senate unanimously, a potential life-saving bill for the Fish and Game Department (F&G) lied dormant in the hands of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee for nearly six months following their vote to retain the bill on March 28th, for further review. (The House F&G and Marine Resources Committee is made up of 21 House Reps who vote on legislation concerning NH wildlife and conservation)
The bill was scheduled for a subcommittee work session on Sept. 19th. Unfortunately, it appears that work session was unproductive, as after approximately 5min 32secs of discussion, the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee voted 12-4 against the bill on October 10th. (It is noteworthy that nine members of the committee were not present for the vote.)
The survival of the bill is now dependent on the full House, which is scheduled to vote Tuesday, January 9th.
SB48, a bill which would create a study committee to review the financial stability and management structure of the F&G couldn't come at a better time for the Dept, which has been suffering from financial difficulty for quite some time.
According to the F&G, their plate has been overflowing with additional responsibilities that have been piling on over the past several years, and they just don't have the funds to cover those expenses.
Back in 2000, approx. 65% of the F&G's total budget came from hunting/fishing license fees. That number decreased to 20% by 2015. The F&G is receiving approximately $2M of general state tax funds in 2018, and even that much won't be enough.
SB48 Proposes Updated Solutions
Much like a performance audit of the F&G released in 2008, SB48 requires consideration of paramount issues preventing involvement and support by the majority of NH residents, gravely impacting the F&G. And those crucial problems derive from the Dept’s structure.
How Structure Impacts Financial Stability
On one hand, the F&G benefits all NH residents (e.g., Search and Rescue, Non-Game Program). On the other hand, within the Dept is the Commission, the 11 members with policy and rule-making power regarding NH wildlife (RSA 206:4-A). Because they have authority to set NH regulations, they're essentially legislative representatives, similar to our house representatives. However, unlike house reps, the Commissioners must carry a hunting or fishing license (RSA 206:2-A) and aren't voted in by the public, but are nominated by sporting clubs (RSA 206:2). So when a resident believes the Commission does not appropriately represent them, it builds a lack of trust and prevents resident support and participation, making the entire F&G Dept suffer.
There are also times when the F&G Dept as a whole is in disagreement with the Commission's rule-making decisions, but the structure ties even their hands (RSA 206:1), creating a problematic situation.
Survival does not mean the discontinuation of the F&G, but the adaptation and evolution of it.
Evolution Equals Survival
The majority of NH residents are non-hunters; not more important than hunters, but equally important and vital for the F&G's survival. Legislation requiring support from non-hunters is currently nearly impossible to pass due to the Dept's conflicting and outdated structure. Survival does not mean the discontinuation of the F&G, but the adaptation and evolution of it, allowing for the allure and participation of all residents, licensed to hunt or not. The unity and contribution from all NH residents are the keys to the Dept's longevity and future success; making the structure of the F&G a primary factor when determining how to correct the Dept's current financial troubles.
Potential High Gain With Low Risk
SB48 would require that a committee reviews the F&G only and does not grant authority to make actual changes. The study committee will report the results and provide suggestions based on their findings. If a bill results from the study, it must be introduced into NH State Government just as any other bill requires. That means it must be assigned to a House/Senate Committee, go through a public hearing, pass the Committee, then pass the full House as well as the Senate. Worse case result of a study committee is a disliked suggestion or killed bill. So what exactly are we afraid of?
House F&G Committee Members in opposition to SB48, expressed the following perspectives:
1. Some members assert that the F&G is funded mostly by hunting/fishing licenses and changing the structure of the Dept in any way that would prevent bias towards hunters/anglers would be unfair.
2. Studies have been conducted in the past and were not beneficial
F&G Director reported "there are more Pittman Robertson monies coming from firearm & ammunition sales to non-hunters than hunters."
1a: SB48 wouldn't change the structure of the F&G, it will implement a review of it.
1b: NH Shouldn't Tolerate Any Bias Among Our leadership
The F&G has the responsibility of representing all NH residents equally, those licensed and unlicensed alike, which will, in turn, benefit the Dept overall.
1c: Non-Hunters and Non-Anglers Provide More Funding to F&G than Hunters/Anglers
During a F&G Commission meeting on April 12th, F&G executive director Glenn Normandeau reported that "there are more Pittman Robertson monies coming from firearm & ammunition sales to non-hunters than hunters."
The Wildlife Restoration Act, AKA the Pittman-Robertson Act(PR), is a program that provides federal aid to the F&G Dept from federal excise taxes on guns and ammunition. Recent reports revealed what many have been stating for years; non-hunting gun owners contribute more funding to the F&G via those federal excise taxes than hunters, something that the F&G Dept and House F&G Committee members seemingly don't want the public to know.
2. Potentially Successful Suggestions From Previous Studies Weren't Implemented
Other studies were not entirely successful because the F&G Dept has repeatedly focused on finances alone, and not other contributing factors.
The aforementioned F&G performance audit released in 2008, included two crucial suggestions: (a) Change the name of the F&G to efficiently reflect all aspects of the Dept (e.g., Fish & Wildlife Dept), which will also appeal to all residents. (b) Amend NH Law to allow the appointment of F&G Commissioners with non-hunting wildlife and conservation interests, which will lead to a more balanced representation of all NH residents, licensed to hunt/fish or not. Unfortunately, neither of those suggestions, among others, were implemented. SB48 will allow for a study that will include the review of such recommendations, opening up the potential for greater success for the F&G Dept overall.
3. Residents Are Losing Trust In The F&G Dept and House Committee
Between lack of equal representation, outspoken bias towards hunters by F&G Commissioners and House F&G Committee Members, as well the proven lack of ethics among those with the power to make laws regarding NH's wildlife and conservation, the F&G Dept is in dire need of implementing changes that will regain the trust of Granite Staters.
The Bottom Line
Studying accounting and financial statements alone is not going to solve the Fish and Game's problem because the root of the issue lies beyond the finances. SB48 will bring a diverse group of intelligent and highly experienced individuals together, creating a well-balanced study and potential successes that could lead to the support of the Dept from the majority of NH residents that has never taken place before.
As with any truly skilled hunter or outdoor enthusiast, the Fish and Game Department must adapt to survive.
Deadline:Tues, January 9th (7am)
1. Find Your House Rep(s) Here
2. Make A 5 Minute Call
Call your House Representative(s) and kindly urge their support of SB 48. Numbers listed are often personal, so be sure to call during appropriate hours. Calling before Tuesday is preferred, but Tuesday morning may suffice. Feel free to leave a message if you receive a voicemail.
Example: "Hello, my name is (name), from (town). I'm calling to kindly urge you to vote 'Yes' on SB 48 up for a vote on Jan 9th., which would establish a commission to study the efficiency and effectiveness of Fish and Game Dept operations. With hunting and fishing licenses declining greatly over the past ten years, and approximately $2M of general state funds contributing to the Fish and Game, I believe it is of vital importance that an updated study is conducted to confirm the efficiency of the Dept., not only to improve equal representation of all NH residences, licensed to hunt or not, but to ensure the Dept's survival."
3. Follow-Up With Email
Please note, calls are crucial in this case. However, you may follow-up with an email (to have your support of the bill in writing), or if you don't have time to make the 5min call, emails are certainly better than not contacting your representative at all.
Email: Use address provided via link in #1 above
Subject: Vote YES on SB 48 - Establish Commission to Study F&G
Body: Example shown above
Sign Off: Be sure to end with a Thank You and provide your name and town (phone number optional)