Wednesday, July 16, 2014

License Revamp Proposal a Fair Deal for Hunters, Anglers

By Nick Gevock

Over the past year and a half, an ad hoc committee has taken a thorough look at the structure of Montana’s hunting and fishing license fees. It was a diverse group of people, including hunters, an outfitter, state lawmakers, a Fish and Wildlife commissioner and others. The group, appointed by the governor, had a huge charge of looking over everything in relation to the structure of our state’s hunting and fishing licenses for both residents and non-residents.

The group had a big task,. It was charged with looking at ways to stabilize FWP’s funding, looking at the array of free and reduced price licenses, simplifying licenses, evaluating the earmarked funds, recommending license prices and looking at other sources of funding for FWP. 

At the end of the day, however, the group came up with some relatively modest fee hikes and simple proposals. Here’s what that means for the average Montana hunter and angler:

That’s not a typo. The increase comes in the form of a new $10 base hunting license – which includes the already existing $2 hunter enhancement fee – and a $6 hike in the annual fishing license. There will be no increase in the specific species tags for residents.

Admittedly some of the people who have received free and reduced price licenses will see an increase. But the council standardized all discounted licenses at half the regular price – and most would agree that’s a good deal. It raised the age to qualify for a discount as a senior from age 62 to 67.

There are a handful of other changes. Special moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison licenses for non-residents will increase from $750 to $1,250. This is in line with other states that have these opportunities. Fishing licenses for residents will increase from $18 to $24. Non-residents will feel a larger impact, going for a season long from $60 to $86. Again, these rates are on par with similar states that offer cold-water fisheries, and in most cases lower.

Finally, the cycle at which the state will review license fees will go from 10 years to four years. That will allow smaller increases, when needed, to keep up with inflation. Moving to a four year cycle is important both from the stand point of sensible management of the agency and for those of us who like to budget our hunting expenses. It helps create a more stable, common sense funding mechanism that should be able to help avoid the politics of the Legislature, which has recently been brutal to our game and fish agency. 

FWP budgets much differently than other state agencies or businesses. They have to plan out and plot a funding curve that accounts for years of increased revenue that must be held in reserve in order to make up for the shortfall of funds when inflation over-takes the generally small increase on hunting and fishing license fees. Montana is the cheapest state in the west when it comes to resident opportunities. While we all appreciate that, we should also understand that the cost of doing business for FWP has risen dramatically since the last license fee increase, over 10 years ago. Gasoline costs more for trucks, the cost of heating and cooling office space has risen just like everyone else and our dedicated game wardens, biologists, state parks employees and many other public servants at FWP haven't had a decent pay raise in years. 

When I think of the recreational opportunities in Montana, the analogy of going skiing comes to mind. Every year when I show up at the lift ticket window, prices have gone up a little bit. And wildlife management, like running a ski hill, has costs. It takes money to pay biologists, conduct game flights to count populations, and shock fish on rivers, for example. That science is needed to set seasons, determine bag limits and manage rivers and streams.

Our forefathers understood that funding for wildlife management should be both stable and as non-political as possible. Unfortunately, because of politics, this funding model that has worked so well for over 100 years is now neither stable or non-political.

It’s time to honor the hard work done by this committee and endorse the proposal. The Environmental Quality Council is asking for comments on this proposal. Please take a moment and tell them to support reasonable increases to our hunting & fishing licenses and to continue a century old conservation success story without the partisan politics that paralyze our legislature today.

Deadline for submitting comments is August 16th, so don’t dally! 

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