(Host) Commentator Allen Gilbert looks at the financial difficulties facing the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
(Gilbert) Auctioning off moose-hunting permits to the highest bidder? Quite a ruckus was stirred up the other week when legislators in the Vermont House of Representatives considered the idea.
It made you think of Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood. The king’s domain, open for hunting only to the rich and powerful, with everyone else out in less desirable places.
True, this was only a limited number of permits – five, I believe. And true, the cause seemed worthy – to help the Fish and Wildlife Department raise more money. But somehow the notion of putting our wildlife up for sale to the highest bidder – rather than to those who are the best outdoorsmen or the best marksmen – well, that seems contrary to Vermont’s traditions. To those who already have, would go more. And in the case of a moose, a lot more. A young neighbor of mine shot a moose last year, and his family still has a freezer full of steaks and roasts.
The idea of auctioning off moose-hunting permits comes in the wake of another controversial proposal that Fish and Wildlife developed last summer. Again, the goal was to raise money. The department wanted to impose a canoe tax – a tax on canoeists and kayakers for using the state’s waterways. The rationale was that power-boat owners are taxed to use the state’s waters. Why not paddlers?
The proposal died. People realized that there’s a positive good in having people propel themselves on the state’s rivers and lakes rather than have them power around, polluting the water and air. Canoeing should be encouraged, not discouraged.
There is an interesting history to the financial challenges that the Fish and Wildlife Department currently faces. When Vermont state government was reorganized in the 1960s, many departments fought being grouped with other departments in large agencies. The state said the reorganization was necessary for efficiency and accountability. Disgruntled departments, often administrative fiefdoms unto themselves, decried “big government.” Fish and Wildlife was one of the unhappy units. It negotiated a deal to join the Agency of Natural Resources if the department could keep revenue from hunting and fishing licenses to itself. At the time, the sale of licenses was a yearly gusher of revenue. The department wanted that money to ensure its financial autonomy.
The deal worked well for the department through the 1970s and much of the 1980s. But, slowly, the sale of hunting and fishing licenses dropped off. The cash cow dried up, and the department was forced to trim staff. When more cuts weren’t feasible, the department had to join other departments within state government and ask for an annual appropriation of funds.
The financial strength of the Fish and Wildlife Department was once the envy of other departments in state government. But the department is now reduced to auctioning off moose-hunting permits or taxing canoeists. Somehow there must be a better way to raise money to help manage the state’s wildlife resources.
This is Allen Gilbert.
Allen Gilbert is a writer active in civil liberties and education issues.