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License hike part of state's budget

By Steve Piatt
Thursday, April 16, 2009 9:42 AM CDT
Albany - A sweeping overhaul of sporting license fees has been approved as part of the state's $132 billion budget.

That means hunters, anglers and trappers can expect to pay more to pursue those activities this fall; the license hike takes effect Oct. 1, at the start of the new license year.

It's the first license hike since 2002, and one crafted in response to a huge deficit - about $13 million - in the state's Conservation Fund, which is driven largely by license revenues.

"When the state budget passed, it became a done deal since it was included as a bill within the state budget,"_DEC_Assistant Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Doug Stang said of the license hike.

Also included within the budget was the creation of a $10 saltwater fishing license ($15 for nonresidents).

Although DEC, in a prepared statement announcing the plan, used the term "modest" in describing the increases, some sportsmen and women may feel otherwise. License fees will increase almost across-the-board, with resident fishing licenses going from $19 to $29; sportsman (hunting and fishing) from $37 to $47; and trapping from $16 to $21.

There will also be increases of $5 for resident turkey, bowhunting and muzzleloading stamps, and a $10 fee for Deer Management Permits, which were previously free.

The proposal was based largely on one crafted by the Conservation Fund Advisory Board earlier this year, but that plan was tweaked before being placed into the budget proposal.

"CFAB proposed that legally blind anglers pay a $5 fee for their annual license, while blind anglers still get free fishing licenses under the budget proposal," Stang said. "CFAB proposed that a $5 fee be charged for each_Deer Management Permit applied for, while the budget proposal includes a $10 fee for DMP application, regardless of the number applied for."

He added that the board, which monitors expenditures within the Conservation Fund, also wanted language that would allow DEC to exempt holders of lifetime sportsman licenses from the DMP application fees. Stang said the proposal does that, and also could exempt holders of lifetime sportsman, junior hunting, junior archery and resident super sportsman licenses from the DMP application fees. DEC still must pass regulations to allow that to happen, Stang said.

Some board members may not have been pleased with the final proposal, Region 7 CFAB member Charlie Pace said. Pace for one was unhappy DEC in a prepared release painted the proposal as a CFAB-crafted plan.

"There were some changes," Pace said. "It wasn't entirely what we had proposed."

Pace said the board "worked to protect" senior license holders, considered a higher turkey permit fee after discussions with representatives of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and also had mixed views on the creation of the saltwater fishing license.

The DEC statement indicated the license hike plan was one "based on the (CFAB) proposal."

Stang said some board members had never been through a comprehensive license fee proposal "and their expectations of how a fee proposal would fall into place following their recommendations may differ from the negotiated agreement that results from discussions with the state Legislature, the governor's office, and the Division of Budget."

Stang said a "great deal of input" came from various sporting organizations. "Obviously, CFAB members and their proposal were integral to the development of the final license fee package," he said.

DEC_Commission Pete Grannis praised the board for its efforts in working on a new license fee structure. "I applaud the members of the CFAB for stepping up to the challenge and making responsible recommendations for dealing with the growing deficit in the Conservation Fund,"_Grannis said.

A previously discussed trout and salmon stamp and a pheasant stamp were not included in the proposal.

DEC officials noted, too, that the new license structure doesn't increase fees for junior hunting and trapping licenses, or the fishing license for anglers 70 and older. Also, the proposal calls for dropping the price of a one-day fishing license from $15 to $5.
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