Protecting Our Hunting Heritage

David J. Valesky

May 26, 2006

Hunting and fishing have been part of the rural Upstate way of life for generations, with tradition often passed on from parents to their young adult children during weekend hunting and fishing trips. Yet, sportsmen and women in New York are concerned that this tradition is in danger of dying out, as the average age of hunters continues to rise because fewer young people are taking up these sports.

This would be a tremendous blow to the cultural heritage of our region and the local economies that depend on hunting and fishing, not to mention the effect on wildlife management.

State law is partly responsible for this decline. For example, New York is currently the only state in our region that does not offer a junior regular big game license. All surrounding states permit youths to hunt big game under adult supervision.

There is a bill pending before the Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation, of which I am ranking member, which would create a junior big game license for 14-16 year olds. This bill, (S.1536), would require taking a sportsman safety course before the license was granted. It would also require adult supervision while hunting. I am a firm supporter of this legislation.

There is also a bill (S.120) which would lower the age required to gain a junior archery license from 14 to 12 years old, allowing parents to spend quality time with their children outdoors before they enter the teen years. I was pleased to support this legislation, which passed the Senate and awaits action by the Assembly.

In another more subtle way, the State is discouraging hunting with policies that compel private landowners to prohibit hunting on their property. As we all know, the amount of private land posted to prohibit hunting grows every year. This is, of course, the right of every property owner. However, existing laws that hold landowners liable actually encourage posting. As a result, landowners often close their land to recreational use for fear of being held responsible for an accident.

One of the steps we can take to reverse this trend is to place practical limits on landowner liability. Legislation has been crafted to limit this liability, (S.2614) striking a more reasonable balance on the issue. I believe this could remove one concern as the owners of wilderness areas consider whether they will open their property to hunters.

Recently, the Governor proposed a series of legislative initiatives to enhance wildlife habitat and encourage hunting and fishing on private land. I applaud this effort, and hope that the State can continue to be a partner with sportsmen in encouraging activities that teach valuable life lessons of personal responsibility and sound wildlife management.