Well, I guess it is time for Collins the Fisherman to once again change hats and become Collins the Politician.
I know how much all of you like to read about my adventures and misadventures in the great outdoors, but sometimes a lame-brain idea arises that could tip the scales and hurt a South Carolina government agency that really works -- our own Department of Natural Resources.
About a month ago, there was a firestorm after I wrote about a group of senators who had proposed dipping into the already depleted DNR budget (a 52 percent cut in 10 years) and using a portion of our fishing and hunting fees to help finance prisons, education and other agencies in financial peril. I explained that if this happened, it would jeopardize the Waddell Mariculture Center's ability to survive and if that were not enough, matching federal funds for each license purchased would go right out the door. Thanks to those who contacted our local senator; he got the message and retracted his support of the bill in less than a week.
Last week another crisis has arisen that could also seriously damage DNR and its great work. Midland South Carolina Sen. Jake Knotts had a brainstorm (or a brain flatulence, if you ask me), and here is what he is trying to push through:
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In a nutshell, Knotts wants to allow any out-of-state veteran that comes to South Carolina to hunt or fish to buy their licenses at the same reduced rate paid by residents. Don't get me wrong, I realize these vets have sacrificed so much for our country. But with all the budget cuts DNR is already facing, this is the wrong time to be giving freebies to anyone.
According to DNR, about three quarters of out-of-state hunters come from Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. Right now, non-resident licenses make up nearly 20 percent of license sales -- that translates into 43 percent of DNR's operating budget. For example, if Knotts' proposal were passed, a veteran from Florida would pay $12 instead of $125 to hunt. If he comes to hunt deer, he would pay $18 instead of $225. The real kicker: Not only would we lose this money, but we would lose matching federal funds totaling $621 for each big game license sold. This loss of revenue would devastate DNR's ability to operate and Waddell's ability to simply survive.
If you feel that I am off-base, let me highlight another problem with this proposal. An out-of-state person walks into a store and says he wants a hunting license and that he's a veteran. How on earth would that store employee know if this person's telling the truth?
Once again I am asking you to contact state Sen. Knotts and say "No!" to this proposal.
DNR and the Waddell Mariculture Center already are underfunded and understaffed, and yet they continue to make our hunting and fishing some of the best in the country. It is solely because of the dedication of the people under DNR's umbrella. Luckily, I am in a position to watch them in action, interact with different departments and see their hard work that has paid off in spades. This isn't an issue of patriotism; it's an issue of survival for DNR and our very own Waddell Mariculture Center.