By GREG KLEIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
MIDDLEFIELD — Otsego County will opt into a pilot state program to allow children ages 12 and 13 to take part in more forms of hunting, including with a firearm.
The county’s Board of Representatives approved the trial program at their meeting Wednesday, July 7.
The program was approved in the 2021 state budget and offered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation on a county-by-county basis.
According to a media release from the DEC, the program:
• allows 12- and 13-year-old licensed hunters to hunt deer with a rifle, shotgun or muzzleloading firearm in areas where and during the hunting seasons in which such firearms may be used, including during the Youth Firearms Big Game Hunt over Columbus Day weekend;
• allows 12- and 13-year-old licensed hunters to hunt deer with a crossbow during the times when other hunters may use crossbows;
• requires supervision of a licensed adult hunter (aged 21 years or older) with at least three years of experience hunting deer who maintains physical control over the youth hunter at all times;
• requires the youth hunter and adult mentor to wear fluorescent orange or pink clothing and to remain at ground level while hunting deer with a crossbow, rifle, shotgun, or muzzleloader.
The program does not allow black bear hunting.
All but two of the county’s 14 representatives voted to opt into the program. Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Richfield, Springfield, voted against it and Rep. Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, abstained. Both said they worried about allowing kids that young to hunt with guns.
McCarty said he is from a family of hunters, but he worries about safety issues and did not want to have an accident on his conscience.
“It makes me wonder what is coming down the road,” he said. “Are we going to give 12 and 13-year olds driver’s licenses?”
Rep. Rick Brockway, who writes an outdoors column, said he would prefer that kids learn to hunt at a younger age because if they are in the woods all day hunting then they are spending less time on their phones and playing video games.
Many of the board members said they thought allowing kids to take hunter safety classes at an earlier age was a good idea.
“It can actually make for safer hunters in the program since they are learning gun safety at a younger age,” said Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-town of Oneonta.
The board held a public hearing on the program and got mixed responses. Four people spoke at the public hearing, with two in favor of the program and two against it. Board Clerk Carol McGovern said she also got four letters about the program, with three of them in favor of it.
The program will last through 2023, according to the DEC. It is not available in Westchester and Suffolk counties. Most of the rest of the counties in the state
have already opted in and a few more are considering the matter in July.
The board met in person for the first time since March 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic led to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders, including suspending open meeting laws that required in-person meetings. With the pandemic receding and the executive orders revoked July 1, the board reconvened and most members expressed relief to be off Zoom and in the same room with one another.
To allow for more social distancing, the meeting was moved from the county board room at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown, to the Meadows Complex in the town of Middlefield.
In other business Wednesday:
• Rep. Daniel Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, the chair of the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, told the board he expects to have a proposal next month about how the county can supplement local Emergency Medical Services. Wilber, his committee members and other county officials have been sounding the alarm for months about a lack of enough emergency resources in Otsego’s towns and villages. With volunteer EMS workers aging out of service and resources strained by the pandemic, response times have been an issue in Otsego County and beyond, and the PSLA has been weighing proposals for a county ambulance and/or medical fly car as a supplemental support when no one is available to respond to an emergency medical call.
• Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, said he wants the appropriate committees to pass July resolutions to lift the county’s hiring freeze so the board could consider the matter in August. The hiring freeze and other austerity measures were put in place last summer when it became obvious the pandemic would decimate the county’s 2020 tax revenue. However, with 2021 tax numbers looking good and the county receiving the first part of its federal COVID recovery money, the freeze is no longer needed, Bliss said, and the board is still spending a lot of time rubber stamping new hires.
• The board approved a resolution of appreciation for Chuck “Big Chuck” D’Imperio, who broadcast on WDOS in Oneonta and at other local radio stations for about 50 years. Rep. Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla, read the resolution into the official record.
• Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, made a special presentation to the board, giving them an update on the 2021 session in Albany. Salka discussed the recreational marijuana bill, the state’s $218 billion budget, an increase in CHIPS road money and the education budget for the next few years. He said there was a strong bipartisan push to ensure education funding, a lobbying effort which he characterized as successfully funding schools at a strong level through 2024.
• Southern Tier Executive Director Jen Gregory also addressed the board, explaining about the group’s mission and a rise in its fee structure, which she said will be phased in over several years, rising from $10,000 annually to about $16,000.
• The board approved allocating $50,000 in bed tax money for the Otsego County Community Events Grants Program. The money will go to 39 businesses, nonprofits and municipalities that are holding 2021 events that are designed to produce more overnight stays in the county. Bliss thanked Vice Chair Meg Kennedy and the members of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee that she chairs for making sure the money could be allocated this year. He said it is a great sign for the county that so many groups will be holding events in the second half of 2021.
Editor’s Note: As part of the events grants, the board approved $2,200 for Film COOP’s Women in Film Peak Leaf Week Location Tour and Networking Event. Editor Greg Klein is the board president of Film COOP.