DNR's fee hike plan stirs up a storm
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Thursday, 16 November 2006 12:20

Based on the e-mails and telephone calls I've received, the Department of Natural Resources will encounter massive opposition to its request that the Legislature double the cost of most hunting and fishing licenses next year.

A 100 percent increase in a deer license? 140 percent increase for a combo license? At a time when Michigan's economy is in the toilet? Are they nuts? John Galadet, Grand Rapids.

Many of the messages make it clear that while the writers don't object to some kind of increase, the DNR screwed up big time by waiting until now to ask for some huge jumps rather than setting up a system that would have allowed for more modest, regular increases over the past decade or so.

How did the DNR let things get into such a mess? They must have seen this kind of shortfall coming for years. Maybe we need to see about getting some more competent people running the place. Sid Johnston, Alpena.

Those people are right. Unfortunately, the blame is falling at the feet of a director, Becky Humphries, who inherited a gosh-awful mess when she took over 2 ½ years ago from the unlamented K.L. Cool, a political tool of former Gov. John Engler and the prime architect of the present mess.

During Cool's tenure, the last thing the governor and Legislature wanted to hear was requests for more money from the DNR, and Cool ensured they didn't, even though it was clear the agency was spiraling toward a crisis.

It figures. Just when I reach 65 and can buy a senior license, they want to raise my fees 300 percent. I realize that things cost more today and some increases are inevitable, but that's too much at one time. Alan Pavey, Port Huron

By the time Humphries was handed the problem, a surplus in the fish and game funds had turned into a huge deficit, and other DNR divisions, including forestry and parks, were facing their own financial crises.

The people responsible for the disaster are mostly gone, but the problem is that no matter who got it wrong, apportioning blame won't make it go away. There simply isn't enough money coming into the game and fish funds to operate the programs that hunters and anglers want and for the DNR to carry out its mandate to protect and preserve the resources.

The DNR wants to double the price of a fishing license, but we haven't had decent perch fishing in Saginaw Bay for years, and there aren't any salmon left in Lake Michigan. If the DNR was a private company, it would have been put out of business years ago. Charles Ford, Grand Rapids.

Throwing more money at a problem won't necessarily solve it. There's no better example of that than our public education system, where today we spend vastly more per pupil in inflation-corrected dollars than we did 30 or 40 years ago, and yet our kids post far lower test scores and employers complain that many high school graduates are woefully lacking in basic skills.

But the big problem for the DNR is that license fees haven't even come close to keeping up with inflation. While many hunters and anglers have a mistaken impression that they've gone up every year, basic licenses have increased only $2 since 1994.

That's an increase of 15% in 12 years. But how much has the price of gasoline increased since 1994? And the price of cars, health care, boats, toilet paper, electricity, heating for buildings and just about everything else the agency must buy to run its daily operations?

I don't see how you can support raising the cost of licenses when the economy is in such a mess. You apparently have plenty of money, but for some of us, another $15 or $20 could mean the difference between whether we go hunting or not. See how the DNR likes it when they don't have enough hunters coming out to keep the deer numbers down. John Zielewski, Flint.

My guess is that while they are certainly needed, the increases proposed by the Natural Resources Commission will prove too great for the Legislature to gag down, especially when the legislators start getting the kinds of e-mails and telephone calls I've had.

What we'll probably see is the Legislature approving more modest increases for next year, with additional increases over the next decade and a built-in cost of living provision to make sure the agency doesn't fall behind the inflation curve again.

The DNR has cut the number of deer in half where I hunt. It spends all its money on the Great Lakes and doesn't do anything for the inland lakes where people like me fish. And now it wants me to pay twice as much for a license? I'll stop hunting and fishing before I pay that. Tom Barich, Flint.
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