Why is it that politicians continue to meddle with the outdoors?
Don't they have more important things to do?
Like hugging babies or leading a parade?
Our nation's elected leaders have a lot on their plate these days and yet they still find time to hold our sporting heritage hostage. And it's all in the name of politics.
For the past two months, it looked as though the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 would surely make it to the president's desk. The act that contains 17 key provisions for hunters and anglers had strong bipartisan support. It was a no-brainer.
But we learned Monday to never take anything for granted in Washington. The Senate failed to advance the bill. A minor point of order was raised and the ensuing vote crashed along party lines. Politics overruled logic.
Unfortunately, the failed Sportsmen's Act of 2012 looks trivial when compared with the implications for American sportsmen tucked deep within the so-called fiscal cliff. Unless our leaders find a hidden treasure chest of political goodwill in the next month, the news will be dire for many of the agencies charged with managing the nation's wild resources.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is just one of many groups asking sportsmen to put pressure on their elected leaders. The agency is in the crosshairs of Washington's fiscal deadlock, and if the trigger is pulled, it could lose nearly $1 million worth of critical funding next year.
The PFBC depends on the money it receives each year through the Sport Fish Restoration Program and the Boating Safety Trust Fund. But unless Congress renews its long-lost sense of compromise, the funds would get slashed by 7.6 percent next year. It's part of Washington's grand sequestration package -- where everything gets slashed regardless of the effect on the national deficit.
"Sequestering the Trust Funds will not reduce the federal deficit, and, in fact, could hurt the country's finances by curbing the $145 billion economic driver that is wildlife-related recreation, enjoyed by 90 million people each year," said PFBC executive director John Arway.
He's right. Much of what the PFBC does is designed to enhance Pennsylvania's boating facilities and angling opportunities. But it takes more than fishing license revenue to get the job done. The agency relies on the cash in the trust funds -- which are generated by an excise tax on sporting-related gear -- to put trout in streams, build boat ramps and enforce the laws of the state's waterways.
"If budget sequestration takes effect, our agency will have to make tough decisions now and down the road," said PFBC deputy for administration Brian Barner. "Potentially, we may have to reduce services like fish stocking, access area maintenance, boating education and safety and other programs which Pennsylvania's anglers and boaters care about deeply."
Nobody denies Washington is in a serious fiscal crunch. That's why this is not the time for the kind of political wrestling we've become all too used to seeing.
The federal government has no right to hold hostage money that rightfully belongs to the nation's sportsmen. And there's no reason a common-sense bill that would help strengthen the nation's sporting tradition should fail because of partisan bickering.
If you're a fan of the outdoors -- if you hunt, fish, hike, bird watch or even just enjoy our state parks -- you should be infuriated.
But even more importantly, you should be on the phone with your local elected leader.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.