The elimination of funding for the state pheasant stocking program has feathers ruffled and sportsmen crying fowl.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed 2013 budget calls for cutting the $160,000 used to stock state land with pheasants for hunters.
The recommended cut, part of the midterm budget adjustments, aimed at keeping the budget in the black for the second half of the biennium. Ben Barnes, the governor’s budget director, said Thursday that reductions had to be made and state government won’t come to a screeching halt without pheasants.
“We’ve made reductions to programs we thought were least critical to central government functions,” Barnes said.
But since the birds aren’t indigenous to Connecticut, the sport will all but disappear for hunters that don’t frequent hunting preserves where small game is privately stocked. And they’ve been letting lawmakers know about it. Legislative email boxes have been flooded with complaints.
“It ain’t right,” Hebron pheasant hunter Willy Columbe said. “I’ve been hunting pheasants in Connecticut since I was 16 and I’m going to be 70 this July.”
Columbe said in the past he’s enjoyed hunting the birds on state property like Mansfield Hollow but said he and other old-timers feel the state’s been doing a “lousy job” in recent years. Cutting it all together isn’t fair, he said.
According to the Moodus Sportemen’s Club blog, “Pheasant Hunting is a Gateway Activity for new hunters.”
Rep. Craig Miner, R- Litchfield, said as one of the leaders of the legislative Sportsmen Caucus, he’s heard from more than just constituents on the issue.
He said he and other members of the caucus have penned a letter to the Appropriations Committee saying squashing the sport is counter to the goal of getting people to appreciate the state’s resources.
“It’s detrimental to the economic forecast in terms of highlighting value of Connecticut,” Miner said.
According to a recent study by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis all hunting in the state generates about $100 million a year in economic activity.
Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R- Stafford, said he’s also been contacted by residents. He agreed with Miner’s assessment.
“You’re going to lose a whole group of people who are interested in the environment and care about keeping the forests pristine,” he said.
Guglielmo suggested hunters may be willing to tolerate an increase in the price of permits and tags if it meant the program stayed.
Columbe didn’t think so. The state has raised cost of permits for pheasant hunting enough over the years, he said.
“They shouldn’t go up no more than they went up already,” he said. “The state’s dishing out money right and left to everyone else and they are screwing the poor bastards.”
While it’s a $160,000 program, about $120,000 comes back to the state through hunters’ permitting fees. The fees collected one year are used to purchase birds for the next hunting season.
But Barnes said the entire initial expenditure must be factored against the spending cap which does not consider net impact. The state is only $5.9 million away from the cap for fiscal year 2013.
Told of Barnes’ suggestion that the cut was driven over concern for the spending cap, Miner was unconvinced.
“That’s an insult to my intelligence,” he said. “I could point to many, many, many expenditures that could be equally debated. Why chose this one?”
Barnes said the point was a fair one but said the state is considering painful cuts in many areas and the pheasants just didn’t seem like a high priority.
“I think that the number of people who benefit from this program is quite small,” he said. “It’s much harder for me to justify in my own mind, cuts that we’ve made to other programs like arts organizations, than it is to justify cuts to this program.”