When trout season opens April 1, fishermen will have a chance to pitch in more than just trout lures.
Anglers renewing their New York State fishing license before the opener have an opportunity to legally fish for trout and to upgrade stream conditions and expand public access at sites around this state.
Gov. George E. Pataki signed legislation in 2002 creating a new Habitat/Access Stamp available to all who would like to contribute to fish and wildlife environment and provide greater access to these abundant resources across the state.
This special $5 stamp, included when a state resident purchases a Conservation Legacy license for $76, must be purchased separately with all other sporting license applications.
Anyone willing to assist in this habitat effort can buy a stamp as a contribution without buying any level of sporting license.
With state licenses renewed annually Oct. 1, anglers, hunters, and trappers usually purchase their required licenses before the start of most hunting seasons. Anglers, however, often wait until spring and buy the annual ($19) license. This would be a good time for fishery folk to opt for an H/A Stamp to assist in this worthwhile fund-raiser.
Since the program's inception in 2002, habitat stamp purchases have been modest. At first, license sales sites did not clearly indicate the stamp option. Also, this stamp is not a mandatory purchase.
Without much info on the stamp's benefits, most license purchasers have passed up this option.
About $100,000 came into this fund in 2004-05, resulting in grants approved for upgrades or acquisitions. In all nine Department of Environmental Conservation regional areas, $96,364 was spent on 14 projects that included eight access sites and six habitat improvements.
Word is finally getting out that all funds collected from sale of these voluntary purchased stamps go directly into the State Conservation Fund's Habitat Account. Improvement efforts are impressive.
Sites such as the Batten Kill watershed, a famed trout stream in DEC Region 5, saw improvements last year that included replacing rock and log vane to protect banks from eroding.
In Western New York, a highly visible and beautiful section of the Wiscoy Creek adjacent to the Wyoming County Fairgrounds in downtown Pike received $5,000 in streambank restoration. Any savvy fly rod fancier knows this series of pools, eddies and riffles that serve as home for native trout species, including an occasional brook trout.
Waders along Eighteen Mile Creek in the Town of Evans now have a much more accommodating access area near the Old Lake Shore Bridge. A $5,000 grant assisted the town in providing expanded parking and a greater access to waters of the creek near its mouth.
With H/A Stamp funds available for regional projects that key on specific new construction, repair and upgrading, needed work can be expedited.
Russ Biss, Region 9 Wildlife supervisor, points out that separate committees are appointed for each region to select the top habitat and top access projects submitted each year. "Committee members use an elaborate scoring system to judge applicants for project approvals," Biss said, noting that area reps suggested the remaining funds be spent on "Access by Permission" signs. Those signs were distributed free to landowners at fairs and sporting gatherings in 2005.
Municipalities and not-for-profit groups can apply for grants that range from $1,500 to $14,999 each. Along with municipalities, organizations such as the Dutchess County Federation, Batten Kill Watershed Alliance, Pheasants Forever, Friends of Montezuma and Wyoming County Soil and Water Conservation District received project funds last year.
Fred Neff, past New York State Conservation Council vice president and Baldwinsville area sportsman, has been an outspoken advocate for H/A Stamp sales. "At the last count, 20 states have conservation stamps for game species. New York is the only state that doesn't require a fee from licenses purchasers," Neff said. He would like to see this stamp become a mandatory purchase for license holders.
For more details on grant proposals and for background on the stamp program, go to www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/habstamp.