New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

ConservationPosted 7/16/12
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Dollars for Birds
Andy Mason, NYSOA Conservation Chair

In October, members of the NYSOA Conservation Committee and President Gail Kirch met with NY State Department of Environmental Conservation staff at DEC headquarters in Albany. Gordon Batcheller, Chief of the Bureau of Wildlife, and other DEC wildlife staff sat down with us to discuss a number of issues, including hydrofracking, cormorant management, wind power, Adirondack wilderness protection, and others. In addition, Gordon attended the NYSOA board meeting in Troy in early November.

DEC listened to our concerns and viewpoints, but one consistent theme through both of these sessions was the serious difficulties the agency faces from budget and staff cuts over the past 2 years. The department has not been fully funded—that is, had the capability to carry out its mission, for many years. The Environmental Protection Fund and other funding sources for DEC have been easy targets for raids to balance the state budget. However, the current situation is worse than ever. Both Governors Paterson and Cuomo have cut DEC's budget severely, well out of proportion to the agency's share of state expenditures.

This has translated to a loss of programs that benefit birds in the state. The Bird Conservation Area program that identified and established management plans for state lands of particular importance to birds is now moribund. Monitoring and management projects for species of concern such as Black Terns, Short-eared Owls and other grassland birds, colonial nesters, Spruce Grouse, and others have been scaled back or eliminated. Educational centers and camps that provided exposure to birds and birding to youths are shuttered, with experienced and valued staff laid off.

It is apparent that long-term planning and multiyear projects are difficult or impossible to maintain at DEC. Overstretched staff have to respond to immediate issues that draw them away from more substantial work—an inefficient and ineffective way to operate an important agency.

What you can do—By the time you read this, the Governor will have released his budget plan for the year. The legislature will begin its process of considering funding for the various aspects of state government. It is important that Governor Cuomo and your state legislators hear that DEC needs to have enough money and personnel to meet its responsibilities of protecting the environment and the wildlife of the state. Ask these officials to, at a minimum, fully fund the Environmental Protection Fund, and to protect the agency from any further staff reductions.

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