The agency has already gone through some serious downsizing over the past handful of years. You could easily argue that the time for trimming fat is long past; now, SCDNR is cutting into bone.
Frampton once operated with an annual budget of $31 million; the budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year is around $15 million. It could be worse; SCDNR could be budgeting with $4-a-gallon gasoline in the picture, which would send its operating expenses through the roof.
Popular programs will likely vanish, as the saltwater tagging program did a couple of years ago. People are likely to vanish; Frampton said he's already operating with more than 150 positions unfilled.
Wildlife enforcement is likely to take a bit hit; game wardens are already forced to cover too much territory. If you think that doesn't affect law-abiding hunters and fishermen, consider the trouble you might have getting a timely response when you report night-hunters, trespassers or other poachers on your property - when the nearest officer is a county away.
Elsewhere in this issue, Pat Robertson, one of South Carolina's most-respected outdoor writers, reports that SCDNR officials are talking about what kind of fee increases it might take to offset some of the damage caused by the state's depleted funds. Most of the people I hunt and fish with would have little opposition to a reasonable increase in the price of a basic license or specialty privileges - as long as they don't bear the increase by themselves; other user groups should be included. And simply whacking non-resident hunters and fishermen, as many western states do, could have detrimental effects for the state's tourism industry, in which hunting and fishing plays a prominent role.
SCDNR's financial problems are not unique among state wildlife organizations around the country. The depressed economy is wearing down state-government services everywhere, and with South Carolina's unemployment rate among the highest in the nation, the state isn't taking in the kind of tax revenue needed to offer the same level of services. And things don't look like they're going to right themselves overnight.
Fortunately, the SCDNR's Palmetto Sportsman's Classic does not appear to be headed to the boneyard. The annual outdoors show will return to the state fairgrounds in Columbia toward the end of March for its annual 3-day run. It's not a fishing show, not a hunting show, not a boat show - but a combination of the three.
SCDNR does a tremendous job running the show; I doubt you'll see as many state employees in any one place, at any one time - all pulling in the same direction. The effort the agency puts forth to make for a great show is astounding.
The Palmetto is one of the last of SCDNR's antler-scoring sessions. If there's one thing that will attract a hunter's attention, it's a big set of horns. Charles Ruth, SCDNR's big-game project leader, expects his staff to score around 250 deer that weekend. Maybe the biggest buck killed in South Carolina last fall will make an appearance.