By Jim Beers
A recent warning by Anthony Mauro, Sr., the Chairman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, is a red flag for hunters, anglers, and trappers across the nation. Mr. Mauro and his organization are effective and active defenders of the rights of rural Americans in a State that could rightly claim to be the most urban State run by a one-party political machine joined at the hip with every radical group that ever threatened rural America and renewable natural resource management. It would not be amiss to suggest that as Mr. Mauro and his group goes, so goes the nation in due time, so heeding his concern is in all our best interest.
Mr. Mauro says that New Jersey hunters, anglers, and trappers "are growing frustrated by program cuts and by the diversion of millions of dollars in sales tax revenues from their equipment purchases". Now program cuts in resource management programs are right and proper in these times of economic difficulties and government reorientation, while the size of cuts compared to other cuts in spending are arguable issues. However, the aspect of this that should alert "hunters, anglers, and trappers" nationwide is the "diversion" of "sales tax revenues from their equipment purchases".
A Federal Excise Tax on sport fishing tackle, guns, ammunition, archery equipment, and other such items has been collected for over 50 years now. The federal excise taxes MUST go to Wildlife Restoration and Sport Fish Restoration programs in STATE Fish and Wildlife agencies. Recent annual collections exceed a half Billion dollars and exceed a Billion dollars when required state matching funds (from licenses) are considered. The federal government collects and then disburses these funds based on the area of the State and the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold each year. By law, the federal government can withhold about 5% to "administer" these funds. "Administer" includes apportioning collections annually, assuring that ONLY Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration projects are funded, and each State fish and wildlife agency is AUDITED every five years.
Ten years ago I was forced to retire from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In the midst of that nasty business the US General Accounting Office discovered that the US Fish and Wildlife Service had ("taken"?, "diverted"?, "stolen"?) $45 to 60 Million ABOVE the allowable 5% in the previous 2 years. The stolen funds were used by federal appointees to do things Congress had refused to fund like introducing wolves into Yellowstone and opening a "Green" office in California and to paying large bonuses (like AIG?) to favored cronies. No one was ever even disciplined and the funds (for OUR hunting and fishing programs) were never replaced!
By the time of this theft, the required 5-year audits of state programs had all but disappeared. The resumption of the state audits was reinstituted with fanfare (a "diversion" from the theft) as the repayment of the stolen funds was gradually forgotten. OUR State agencies (from whom the funds were stolen) NEVER asked for much less demanded the replacement of those funds. The reason for this was twofold:
1.) Their own state wildlife programs had grown corrupt during the period of infrequent and ineffective audits. Their state lobby organization in Washington procured a share of future excise tax collections to grow their own staff in Washington. By being easy on federal thieves, state bureaucrats got some "pay to play" under the table.
2.) Their growing dependence on federal Endangered Species, Wetland, Native Ecosystem, Natural Area, etc. grants and "partnerships combined with a belief that "by 2000 several states will have banned hunting and trapping" thereby endangering state employment of fish and wildlife employees: all this made any jeopardy of current and future relationships with US Fish and Wildlife Service employees and the federal funding they controlled very dangerous to state employees.
The first two years of the renewed audits found over $125 Million of "diverted" (paying for state parks, buying motor pool cars for other agencies, putting timber management revenues into state coffers, etc.) funds in state programs. The states objected so the US Fish and Wildlife Service fired the auditors and arranged to pay millions to the Inspector General (responsible for overseeing the US Fish and Wildlife Service) to conduct future audits of the state agencies. This was illegal and the Inspector General made the "diversions" disappear and then conducted audits that made only "hunky dory" audit reports. By the way that Inspector General is the guy appointed by President Obama to "oversee" the "Stimulus" and "Bailout" funds. He is a former Massachusetts police officer and Secret Service employee who sat near the First Lady in the Congressional balcony when the President addressed Congress recently.
The point to all this is that there is a long history of theft of fishing and hunting money at both the state and federal level. Hunting and fishing have always been a low priority compared to other government functions but today there are two NEW reasons why stealing government hunting and fishing money will increase:
1.) The current economic stress at the state level means state politicians and state bureaucrats are like alligators eating their own young. Any money not nailed down is fair game for whoever grabs it. Since a small match of state funding is needed to get the federal hunting and fishing excise taxes, the state will still get it but the temptation then to use it elsewhere (with no fear of exposure by an audit) grows daily.
2.) State fish and wildlife agencies have hired many employees that are anti-hunting, anti-fishing, and anti-trapping. These employees, like the Democrat White House and Congress, see these economic difficulties as a convenient cover for other agendas. Shredding the Constitution, like shredding fish and wildlife management is a necessary part of agendas that are anathema to American traditions and freedoms.
Concerned hunters, fishermen, and trappers will keep a close eye on this and be wary of anything that federal or state bureaucrats say. Watch historic funding levels and satisfy yourself that cuts aren't created by "diverting" the federal excise taxes or by failing to do what the excise taxes were designated to accomplish. The threat to hunting, fishing, and trapping was probably never greater between the economy and the gun control/animal rights/ environmental agenda in Washington.
A confusing paradox exists today as I write about the understandable low priority or value given wildlife programs compared to human needs as governmental priorities. A bizarre glimpse at another example of the value given wildlife appeared in the Minnesota paper yesterday and today.
Yesterday, "An 18 year-old man was ordered to serve 90 days in jail for his role in the shooting of a Coon Rapids man." This fellow and two of his chums committed an "aggravated robbery" with a gun and shot the intended victim "in the jaw".
Today, "A farmer in Oconto County was charged with three felonies for poisoning wild turkeys." He "decided to take things into his own hands after the turkeys repeatedly ate the feed on his farm." He "mixed antifreeze with corn and placed it in a wooded area near his farm." "About 200 wild turkeys were poisoned" and if convicted he faces "10 ½ years in prison".
Two hundred turkeys in any area is way too many turkeys in any area. Two hundred turkeys eating "feed" on any family farm is an economic burden of large proportion. Killing animals (the only realistic alternative in most situations) that burden farmers (coyotes, cougars, bears, golden eagles, etc.) has become less and less common because of animal rights sympathies and when it involves "endangered" wolves or "game" like turkeys I am sure that government controls are no more than some little lady in a uniform passing out a pamphlet telling the farmer "How To Live With Wildlife". This is not meant to excuse the farmer's action but it is meant to place the death of 200 turkeys (that will be replaced by natural processes in a few years) in context.
While state and federal bureaucrats treat hunting, fishing, and trapping as anachronisms headed for extinction, they put wolves or turkeys that harm rural people on a pedestal above the human citizens that pay their salaries. Given their agendas they do whatever suits their current purposes:
A farmer that takes the law into his own hands regarding 200 turkeys faces 10 ½ years in prison.
A young tough shoots a guy during an aggravated robbery and gets 90 days in jail.
Federal bureaucrats steal $45 to 60 Million from American hunters and fishermen and go on to big Executive jobs with The Wildlife Federation, The Defenders of Wildlife, and one was recently considered by the Obama White House to be Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
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