Ag Committee tables proposal to move Fish and Wildlife Division

TRENTON – Environmentalists from a dozen or so of the most respected green organizations in the state today beat back a proposal, temporarily at least, to move the Division of Fish and Wildlife from one state department to another.

The proposal to move Fish and Wildlife from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Department of Agriculture was set for a vote before the Assembly Agriculture Committee, but the committee’s chairman agreed to hold the bill (A2770) in the face of stinging opposition.

“We do not rush things to the floor of the Assembly,” Committee Chairman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May Courthouse, told the assembled environmentalists after more than an hour of testimony. “We will work with everyone involved.”

Albano sponsored the bill with Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Northfield, another committee member who said he began pushing the idea of the move after being approached by clammers and other baymen in his district. He said in an interview afterward the baymen complain of getting no end of grief and run-around from a glacial and uncaring bureaucracy at Fish and Wildlife.

But environmentalist after environmentalist took a seat as a witness before the committee to complain that the bill under consideration is way too far-reaching.

“The legislation is overly broad for the issues you’ve raised of being of concern to you,” Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, told the sponsors.

Dillingham and others noted that Fish and Wildlife has a dozen or so units within it, dealing with everything from shellfish to, say, endangered species. And they say while Agriculture may be a great marketer with its Jersey Fresh and other campaigns, it’s not an environmental steward like the DEP.

Dave Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, joined others in saying the baymen wouldn’t fare any better by the move, either.

“Moving (Fish and Wildlife) to a smaller department with even less resources will make things even worse,” Pringle warned.

A representative for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance echoed Pringle’s sentiments.

“It appears to me you’re talking about efficiencies and the length of time it takes to get permits, but I think that happens anywhere,” said Jaclyn Rhoads, director of conservation policy for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “Moving to another agency could take more time, espeically with another agency that has its own deficiencies.”

But a lobbyist representing seafood growers and harvesters told the committee the move would be beneficial.

“We think it makes sense,” said Scot Mackey of the Garden State Seafood Association. “We believe there’s a natural fit.”

Mackey complained that it’s taken some of his clients a decade to get permits for their operations.

“It just took too long and it’s really a setback for aqua-culture,” Mackey said.

He noted that the transition team for Governor Christie had suggested the move.

Jeff Tittel, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Sierra Club, told committee members he believes the proposal is part of a Christie administration agenda bent on tearing down environmental safeguards.

“This is all about blocking Fish and Wildlife from reviewing permits for stream encroachment, land use permits,” Tittel said.

But Amodeo and Albano say they’re not carrying anybody’s water with their proposal.

And once the lawmakers heard the reaction, they decided to table the bill after a few minutes of talking among themselves up at the committee desks. Albano asked for written input from anyone interested to try to craft a better bill that he says should be more narrow in scope.

“We’re not trying to interrupt the environmental process or wildlife habitat,” Albano said afterward of the proposal. “It has to be narrowed down.”

Ag Committee tables proposal to move Fish and Wildlife Division