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Economic woes and the sportsman's world

Thanks to a variety of factors, most of which have economic roots of one kind or another, the world of the sportsman in South Carolina is at present a troubled one. For several years running the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has faced debilitating budget cuts, and matters are approaching a point where logic makes DNR's continued existence somewhat problematic. I actually heard a high-ranking individual in DNR make an off-the-cuff comment at the Southeastern Wildlife Expo earlier this year to the effect: "I don't know if the agency will even exist in two years."

There's a lot at work here, and some of it goes beyond simple economic straits. It's no secret that the current Speaker of the House, Bobby Harrell, is no friend of the DNR, and if you compare the agency's budget cuts in recent years with those faced by other government entities, they are flat-out Draconian.

On the other hand, DNR has its shortcomings and failings as well. I don't know the explanation for the timing of this year's Youth Day for turkey hunting (March 27), but it is in my humble opinion a masterpiece of idiocy. That's because it falls on the same day as the heart of the annual Palmetto Sportsman's Classic, making it impossible for a well-meaning sportsman to take a youngster on a turkey hunt while also enjoying the full benefits of the biggest day of the Classic.

On a different front, the ranks of DNR personnel actually in the field have been reduced so dramatically that it wouldn't be much of a stretch to say the potential for poaching is at an all-time high. There simply aren't enough members of the "thin green line" out there to deter a determined, woods-wise poaching ring. That is a sad, shameful situation.

Another area of concern to me, and I'm by no means alone in holding this perspective, focuses on what seems to be a gradual but decidedly perceptible redirection of the background, interests, and mindset of DNR personnel. Never mind the fact that major federal funding which ends up with DNR comes directly from hunters and fishermen through excise taxes they pay on equipment, and those involved in hook-and-bullet pursuits pay for licenses to hunt and fish, they seem to get a bit less attention every year. Sportsmen have always paid their way, but hikers, backpackers, bird watchers, and other non-consumptive outdoor enthusiasts don't. That's a demonstrable fiscal fact.

I personally feel every game warden should have a background as a sportsman or sportswoman, and I find it extremely troubling that there are folks within the DNR ranks who certainly leave the impression of being anti-hunters.

Then there's the issue of the future. Youth fishing rodeos across the state have been cancelled. The explanation I've been given thus far is that DNR "can't afford it," but if my understanding is accurate most of the funding for these events (the local rodeo at the Draper Wildlife Management Area near McConnells has been a huge success in past years) has comes from sources other than DNR. To my way of thinking, it would behoove DNR to do everything possible, going not one but many extra miles, to reach out to youth.

They are the future of sport and the future of DNR, because if the next generation does not hunt and fish the department has, in effect, lost its reason to exist. My initial view is that cancellation of these rodeos is terribly short-sighted, and that feeling is reinforced by e-mails from folks who have given time and money to past events and feel shut out of the decision-making as well as keenly disappointed. I'll hold off on further judgment until I can get more details, but anyway you look at it, loss of outreach to youth is a crying shame.

South Carolina has long been a sportsman's paradise, but thanks to problems of funding for and problems within DNR, there's trouble in that paradise. That's reason aplenty for every sportsman to be concerned, to be talking with their elected representatives, and to be monitoring developments on the political and bureaucratic fronts connected with our precious legacy of hunting and fishing.

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