NRA calls shots in fee-hike battle
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Thursday, 15 November 2007 09:10

If you've wondered why Michigan legislators haven't voted to allow the Department of Natural Resources to raise the fees for hunting and fishing licenses, the answer is simple.

The National Rifle Association won't let them.

The Natural Resources Commission had recommended that most licenses be increased 100% and senior licenses even more. The agency has said that it has fallen far behind the economic eight-ball in the past decade, largely because it lost $9 million from the state general fund and didn't get regular smaller increases to replace that money.
The DNR said unless it gets the license fee increases and some means of funding state parks other than entrance and camping fees, it will lay off 14 conservation officers in December and close about 35 state parks next year.

But those proposed increases raised a storm of opposition from people who said it was too much too fast. A coalition that included hunting and angling groups like Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited, Michigan United Conservation Clubs and key legislators met over the summer and fall and came up with a plan that would phase in the increases over several years.

However, Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, and former Republican House speaker Chuck Perricone said the NRA, which has some 200,000 members in Michigan, opposed anything more than a single increase of $3 this year.

Insiders say the dispute is about a lot more than hunting and fishing licenses; namely, an effort by the NRA to give Republicans control of the Michigan House of Representatives and move the state into the Republican column in the next presidential election.

To accomplish this, the NRA is moving to create a new group, with Perricone as its head, that would displace the ostensibly politically neutral MUCC as the political umbrella organization for the state's hunters and anglers. Perricone is a lobbyist and executive director of a group called Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners.

The state budget was so contentious this year that it led to a brief shutdown of government. And new sales taxes on services proved so unpopular that the Legislature is moving to rescind them weeks after they were imposed.

Sheltrown said candidly that the Legislature made such a hash of that budget and angered so many voters that "it's not wise to have an adversarial relationship with the country's largest gun organization" lest that organization target legislators for defeat in the next election. "I don't know of any legislator, particularly from Up North, who will vote against the NRA."

There's also more than a hint of payback involved.

Most DNR decisions are approved not by the Legislature but by the bi-partisan NRC, which largely shields the DNR from political meddling. But it also means that Legislators are frustrated when they can't influence events like the DNR's decisions.

The whole mess is absolutely ridiculous. First, the NRA has no business holding Michigan's hunting and fishing future hostage to its political ambitions. If you want to increase the number of hunters and anglers in this state, the way to do that is not by crippling the only agency that can take the steps to create those increases.

Second, the game and fish in Michigan's woods, fields and waters are not owned solely by hunters and fishermen. They are the property and responsibility of all who live here. Hunting and fishing in Michigan are multibillion dollar activities, and those dollars filter down to the wallets of people who couldn't tell a whitetail from a walleye.

We're long overdue for a complete overhaul of the way we fund oversight of our natural resources. Maybe this budget and license hassle is the catalyst needed to get something done.
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