STATE BUDGET DEFICIT TO BE FELT

January 31, 2003 12:00 am

WITH GOVERNOR GRAY DAVIS' $34 billion deficit hanging over the heads of California state agencies after last term's rampant spending, one would expect a major hit to every department in the state.

It is already happening to health, education and state services, and we can probably look forward to higher taxes and increased vehicle license fees.

The state's outdoor sportsmen can look ahead to cuts as well in programs that keep fishermen and hunters in the field.

The Department of Fish and Game has announced its proposed budget and it will ask sportsmen to pay more and get less. The DFG budget, set out in general terms for the public, was cut 3.5 percent, which adds up to $7.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, bringing the budget to $275.8 million.

DFG director Robert Hight noted the DFG will have to get smaller and leaner, and said, "The State's natural resources would best benefit from a decision that placed habitat protection and resource assessment at the top of departmental priorities."

What that means is that hatcheries, enforcement of inland fisheries and special programs will be slashed while fees for hunters, sportsfishermen and commercial fishing will rise. Some programs will obviously be cut, and among those are the Game Bird Heritage Program and the Becoming An Outdoors Woman Program.

The hatchery programs are critical to keeping people in the field and proving a direct benefit that encourages fishing for all economic levels. Pinecrest Lake is a prime example of this during hte summer, as thousands of visitors go there, nowing that their chances of catching trout are good because of the hatchery planting program.

Under the new license fee structure, one sportsfishing license is proposed for both fresh and saltwater and it would cost $31.25 plus a $5 Ocean Enhancement Stamp, which was previously $2.50.

Those of us who are already deeply "hooked" on fishing will continue, but getting new interest in the sport may become more difficult for some.