If it ain't broke ...

Two curious bills have surfaced in the Assembly to move the state Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and the state Forestry Service out of the Department of Environmental Protection and into the Department of Agriculture.

The Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee wisely held both measures last week. But the question remains: What problem are these bills trying to fix?

The measure to move Fish, Game and Wildlife is sponsored by Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, and Nelson Albano, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. Amodeo has said that the division would be better served by being in the Agriculture Department. But neither bill makes sense - that is, not if you consider the state's fish, game, wildlife and forests as treasures to be protected.

The problem can be easily seen by checking out the the agencies' respective websites.

The Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife - which includes the Fish and Game Council, the Marine Fisheries Council and the Shellfisheries Council - describes itself like this:

"The N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife is a professional environmental agency dedicated to the protection, management and wise use of New Jersey's fish and wildlife resources."

Note the words "protection, management and wise use." The same mission pretty much applies to the State Forestry Service.

Now see how the Department of Agriculture describes itself:

"Welcome to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA), an agency which oversees programs that serve virtually all New Jersey citizens. The Department was established in 1916. One of the Department's major priorities is to promote, protect and serve the Garden State's diverse agriculture and agribusiness industries."

Note the words "promote, protect and serve ... the Garden State's ... agribusiness industries."

See where this is heading?

We're big fans of New Jersey's farms and farmers, and the Department of Agriculture does important work. But farming is very much a for-profit business, and the Department of Agriculture's job is to nurture that business.

And protecting New Jersey's forests, wildlife, fish, clams and crabs is most definitely not a for-profit undertaking. In fact, it is usually in direct conflict with commercial interests.

Which is why these tasks are in the Department of Environmental Protection in the first place and why they should remain there.

Certainly there must be a balance between protecting natural resources and nurturing commercial interests. But these bills would tip that balance in the wrong direction.


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