Support higher license fees
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Sunday, 12 November 2006 15:16

Faced with declining revenues, increasing costs and a $45 million deficit by 2010, the Natural Resources Commission wants to double the cost of a deer license to $30 and increase a fishing license to $20 from $15.

It's a move that should be supported by every hunter and angler in a state where licenses have been among the nation's least expensive and where the Department of Natural Resources gets no more money from the general fund than politicians must grudgingly provide by statute.

But those increases would only be a stopgap, a bandage on a bleeding wound that needs a long-term cure, such as a Constitutional amendment that guarantees enough money for the DNR to operate the state parks and carry out its mandate of stewardship for our wildlife and forests.

A 10-month study by a Hunting and Fishing Development Work Group, chaired by Frank Wheatlake, recommended increasing the cost of nearly every permit required by hunters and anglers.

A combination deer license, which allows hunters to take two bucks and currently costs $30, would increase to $75 because "people who want to hunt for a second trophy buck should be willing to pay a small premium," Wheatlake said.

The DNR could also offer discounts on multiple licenses or encourage management activities such as antlerless harvests.

The increases are long overdue, and the Legislature should approve them quickly. The last time the Legislature approved license increases was in 1996, resulting in two inadequate jumps of $1 each. That's proved by the fact that the Game and Fish Protection Fund faces a $10 million deficit next year if it doesn't get the raises.

In 1976, the DNR got $26.5 million from the general fund. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $91.6 million today, but the agency gets only $25.6 million.

Much of the resistance to the increases will come from senior citizens, because licenses for people 65 and older jump from $6 to $24 for deer, $12 to $48 for combo deer, $6 to $16 for basic fishing licenses, $11.20 to $32 for all-species fishing licenses and $6 to $16 for small game.

But the time has come for all hunters and anglers to pull their weight, and when you look at value for the money, the revamped fees are a bargain even for senior citizens, who got off too lightly for many years.

Although a lot of hunters whine about it, a deer license is one of the best bargains in a state that is consistently among the top three or four in the country in the number of deer killed and days that hunters spend in the field.

The NRC proposal also includes a recommendation that the Legislature allow future fee increases linked to inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, which makes a lot of sense.

The NRC proposal would raise about $35 million over the next three years and carry the agency through 2010. That figures in a temporary 5% decrease in license sales caused by resistance to the fee increases.

The extra money would let the DNR restore some cuts it had to make in programs like stocking coho salmon, improving deer habitat, wildlife disease surveillance and improving trout streams.

Wheatlake's committee included representatives from the charter boat industry, Trout Unlimited, Michigan Steelhead/Salmon Fisherman's Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, UP Whitetails, Michigan State University, Michigan Trappers Association, and the Saginaw Field and Stream Club, groups whose members are representative of most of the state's hunters and anglers.

If those people think the NRC's plan is a good one, the rest of us should support it.
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