We keep hearing disturbing noises about proposed increases in hunting license fees. We are continually told that the expenses to operate state game and fish agencies increase, and that hunting and fishing license fees haven’t been increased since (fill in your own year).
In a highly informal poll on our home page, we asked hunters how they felt about increases in hunting license fees. The choices are:
Justified and still a good buy
Justified but painful
Hunters are being nickel-and-dimed to death.
So far, 63 percent have chosen “Hunters are being nickel and dimed to death.”
One thing that is easy to find on the Internet these days is unemployment figures. In March, the unemployment rate rose from 8.1 to 8.5 percent, and 3.3 million jobs have been lost in the last five months. (Source http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf).
In economic times like these, fee hikes to hunt and fish may actually result in fewer people hunting and fishing and a further decrease in revenue. Nationwide, the economy did not seem to drive the number of hunters down last season—West Virginia even saw an increase in the number of hunting licenses sold. But if enough people are out of work, significant increases in the fees could change that, quickly.
So I would like to propose the following ways for states to raise revenue for their game and fish departments without putting a bigger bite on hunters:
1. Consider spending less money on programs like organic butter churning, photography workshops, and butterfly identification.
2. Implement mentored hunting laws that make it easier for youngsters, or even adults, to get involved in hunting.
3. Many outdoor enthusiasts use hunting lands, without paying fees to do so. Start charging hikers, birders, mountain bikers, and mushroom-gatherers to use the lands that hunters have been paying for all along.
4. Don’t automatically gouge nonresident hunters by increasing their fees. Too many complaints about that already.
5. Increase fines for repeat poaching offenses.
Perhaps most of all, state game and fish agencies need to be doing everything they can to create more opportunities for hunters, and to make it easier for people to hunt. That will translate to more hunters and more revenue from sales of hunting licenses. In fairness, many states are taking such steps—youth-only hunting days are common and youth-mentored hunting laws are becoming more popular. Kentucky gives out free elk tags to any private landowner who opens up 5,000 acres of his property to public hunting. Granted, not everyone has 5,000 acres, but this concept is something other states should look at.
Bottom line—it is still too tough for the average guy to find a place to hunt, still too tough for the average guy to find a range where he can sight-in, and the overall number of hunters in this country is still declining.
What ideas can you suggest?