License fee hike could pay dividends

It looks like the hunting and fishing license fee increase proposal will soon be finalized and we can look forward to the changes starting in 2014. The House approved the legislation Wednesday and it is expected the Senate will quickly follow suit. Gov. Rick Snyder – who requested the increased revenues from the plan be included in next year’s budget – will undoubtedly sign the bill soon after it arrives on his desk.

There hasn’t been an increase in the cost of licenses since 1997, so I guess it’s about time those of us who hunt and fish kick in a little more cash to enjoy our sports.

One of the most interesting aspects of the new license package will be simplification of the licensing system, reducing the number of different types of hunting and fishing fees from more than 200 to about 40.

While most fees will be increased modestly, except for some non-resident licenses, a few fees will actually be reduced under the plan.

Included is a drop in the cost of a resident small game license, which now costs $15 but will drop to $10 and be called the “base” hunting license, which will entitle hunters to take small game such as rabbits and squirrels and such game birds as ruffed grouse and woodcock.

The resident all species fishing license will also be reduced, from the current $28 to $25, while the non-resident license will jump from $42 to $75.

Resident deer hunters will see the largest increase among resident licenses, a 25 percent hike from $15 per tag to $20, which will mean many of us will pay $40 for our combination license in 2014 instead of the $30 we’ll dole out this fall.

Another change that will draw a little more cash out of my wallet is elimination of the 15 percent discount for buying four or more licenses, which I took advantage of for the past several years.

In all, the changes are expected to increase the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ revenues from hunting and fishing licenses by about $18.3 million, or more than 25 percent.

As mentioned earlier, the changes are warranted and will still keep Michigan at the low end of license fees for Midwestern states.

The vast amount of land open to hunting and fishing in the state, particularly up here in the Upper Peninsula, also makes it a great deal at the increased costs.

The real test of this whole issue, though, is how the DNR uses the extra revenues from the license package.

Most of us who participate in hunting and fishing want those funds to go directly toward improving our sports through increased habitat improvement efforts and fish and wildlife management programs. By this I mean spending the money to have more wildlife and fisheries biologists on the ground in the woods and on the water, not administering programs from Lansing.

In addition, a large chunk of the funds, $4.5 million, is for general law enforcement, meaning the hiring of more conservation officers.

While supporting such a move is a popular stance to take, particularly in the minds of politicians, I’m not so sure the bulk of hunters and anglers belief that the best thing to do with the additional funds is hire more conservation officers.

I’m not referring to fish and game violators, either, but average, law-abiding sportsmen and women, who I believe would much rather see more biologists in the field than COs.

There’s no doubt that we need a strong CO presence and that the current ranks of officers do a great job, but far more anglers talk about the need for improved wildlife and fisheries management and habitat improvement than wanting more officers in the field.

Hopefully there will be a balance between using the additional money for non-field and field efforts, so when we spend a little extra for those deer licenses next year we firmly believe we are getting our money’s worth.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.