N.H. Fish and Game forecast for 2015: A 150th anniversary and uncertainty

Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2014
For the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, 2015 will be a big year for two reasons.

The department that protects natural and wildlife resources will mark its 150th anniversary with a series of events, a special logo, commemorative firearms, and new marketing materials and merchandise. But it may also spend the bulk of the year on the brink of insolvency.

Officials speaking at yesterday’s Fish and Game Commission meeting outlined the plans for the anniversary and said they are confident the celebration will draw attention and support to the department.

“This is a big deal for the department, and it’s coming at a time when we can really make a significant impact on what’s going to happen at the Legislature this session,” said Capt. John Wimsatt of Fish and Game’s law enforcement division. “This is very significant.”

Still, Fish and Game faces an uncertain future with an undesignated fund balance that has dropped to $860,000, down from $2.19 million in July. Stopgap funding approved by the Legislature will keep the department solvent through 2015, but the department needs to raise $3 million more in annual revenue to keep the current level of services. The department will look to the Legislature to help deal with that gap, a process that will continue Monday with a meeting between Fish and Game representatives and Gov. Maggie Hassan’s staff.

“So, we’ll get an initial inkling of where that may or may not be going, I hope,” said Glenn Normandeau, Fish and Game’s executive director.

Those discussions could be framed in part by a sustainability report issued last month that included recommendations for new revenue and stabilizing Fish and Game after the current biennium. The report’s suggestions include a new fee for people using kayaks and canoes, a voluntary hiker safety card and a $10 fee for hunting and fishing licenses for residents older than 68. Those permits are currently free.

In response to the report, the New Hampshire branch of the Nature Conservancy yesterday presented its own four-pronged approach to stabilizing Fish and Game.

“We think of it as a package of solutions that you might bring to the Legislature that would help the budget situation in the upcoming biennium and lay the ground for long-term sustainability,” said Mark Zankel, state director of the state Nature Conservancy chapter.

The four-pronged approach included:

∎ Allowing the department to set its own fees in accordance with changing economic indicators to maximize revenue.

∎ Organizing a coalition to support general fund matching of the fee increases to start closing the budget deficit.

∎ Broadening the constituency.

∎ Giving the director more authority to make legislative decisions.

The recommendations built on last month’s sustainability report. The Fish and Game Commission, which serves as a board of directors for the department, did not act on the suggestions yesterday.

“It seems like the ideas that have been put on the table at least publicly . . . aren’t going to be adequate even if they all go gangbusters. They aren’t remotely adequate to address the deficit the department is looking at,” Zankel said. “The commission didn’t come out with a solution that really works for the department.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)