Outdoors with Craig Robbins

A couple years ago I penned a column about how the DEC did during the previous year and for some reason I haven’t done one since. A few folks must have liked it, so I thought it would be a good idea to attempt to ”grade” the DEC.

One of the things that gets me is there are somewhere around 2 million folks who purchase hunting and fishing licenses in New York each year and there is no report card per say. With around 2 million stake holders in New York State each year, why is that?

The governor presents his type of report card – the State of the State message. County executives give State of the County addresses which are like a report card. Mayors of cities give their State of the City address, which is almost like a report card. I am sure even in your job you have some kind of report card/evaluation.

So why doesn’t the DEC have the same type of report or address?

Not being able to find one, I took it upon myself to give a one-person opinion on how the DEC is doing.

Let me say first that some of the hardest-working folks in the conservation field are New York State conservation officers. These fine men and women are pretty much on call 24/7, working in some of the harshest environments. They are often times called in to work in other fields that may not have anything to do with conservation or wildlife, and I am sure they don’t make near enough money.

Speaking from just my personal experiences, the field officers who work for DEC love their job and don’t do it for any other reason than for their love of the work. They are also not there only to enforce and teach laws that are made in Albany.

Let’s start with the hunting side.

For deer hunters, I give the DEC a C+. This above-average grade has to do with several things. Controlling the whitetail population in a rural area of Chautauqua County is difficult at best. Overpopulation inside villages and cities and sparse totals in some rural areas are just some of the difficulties.

For those that are having problems in cities and villages with overpopulation, I have one answer; let hunters do what they do best – hunt. If the deer populations aren’t kept in check, the next problem we are going to have is coyotes in your backyard. Control the coyotes and you’ll have a healthier deer population.

The answer to the problem is to open up the hunting of coyotes year around with no limit.

The bear hunting grade is an A. Opening up bear hunting to expand the season to the entire big-game season will go a long way towards keeping the bear population in check.

The spring turkey harvests the past several years have been down, but with Chautauqua County still ranking No. 1 in the state for spring harvest, that means that spring turkey hunters are still doing a good job.

But again the spring turkey harvest has a lot to do with weather and predators. Wet springs the past few years have helped keep the turkey numbers down and the explosion in coyote population has kept them lower than normal. I have long lobbied for an earlier start to the season, but, as of yet, it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.

I give the DEC a B+ for turkey.

Fishing on Lake Erie and other lakes in Chautauqua County has been good, but not great. With that being said, tributary fishing was better than average last year. But there are still access issues that I feel could be made better with state land purchases to help with Lake Erie trib access.

Lake Erie has seen some good walleye fishing, great smallmouth bass and out-of-this-world perch fishing. Keeping the balance on the Great Lakes is a tough job, but things looked good this season and the future looks even better. Lake Erie overall gets a grade A.

The bass fishing on Chautauqua and Cassadaga Lakes have been world class. A couple of the reasons for this are the catch-and-release seasons and the slot limit on Cassadaga.

That rates a grade A

Muskie fishing during the 2013 season on Chautauqua Lake was good for those who kept after them. While there still is a good number of young fish in Chautauqua Lake, the future looks good for the muskie on the lake. The stocking program is working, and plans for the future are even brighter.

That earns a grade B.

Perch fishing has been equally good for both hard-water anglers and open-water nuts. Like most things in the outdoors, perch are very temperamental and they will have their ups and downs, but it seems we are on an upswing.

Pan fishing gets a grade B.

Walleye had been king on Chautauqua Lake for years, but not so much any more. While the stocking program the state started several years ago has done a good job, it also has kept up the interest up for walleyes.

It earns a grade C.

Early last week I received news that Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced the New York State Adventure License Series, a new promotional effort to provide New Yorkers and visitors the opportunity to purchase lifetime licenses to fish, hunt and visit New York state parks. This is part of the state’s efforts to boost tourism and enhance recreational opportunities across the state for outdoor enthusiasts.

New York’s Lifetime Adventure License Series will provide many benefits, including Lifetime Hunting License for sale at $535 for small/big game

A lifetime hunting license allows holders to hunt across millions of acres of majestic wild lands in New York while saving on the costs of an annual license. A lifetime fishing license provides a lifetime of fishing on more than 70,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 7,000 lakes and ponds while saving on the cost of an annual license.

A Lifetime Empire Passport, selling for $750 with special offer, allows holders to enjoy the forests, the seashore and the lakefronts in New York’s state parks for years and years to come while saving on the cost of an annual license. In addition, as a free one-time special bonus, purchasers will be able to select from any one of the following: a free week of camping, a free round of golf for four or a $100 state parks gift card.

As part of the initiative, the governor unveiled nine new license plate designs available for free exclusively to those buying new lifetime hunting, fishing, or parks licenses in 2014.

In addition, New York residents who have lifetime licenses now have the opportunity to receive an Adventure License, which consolidates all their recreational licenses and benefits on to their New York State driver’s license.

”We are excited to offer New Yorkers and visitors the opportunity to enjoy and explore the Empire State’s great outdoors for a lifetime,” Cuomo said

While there been some good things that are coming out of Albany, there is still the white elephant in the room – the New York State SAFE Act.

This is just one guy’s look at how the DEC has done this past year. There are many species I didn’t look at, but I just tried to hit some of the most popular. Agree or disagree, the state has a tough job and it is doing what I feel is good job to keep everything in balance. While there are many things that could be better, it could be worse.