License fee changes on the horizon

With his signature this week, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law the restructured Michigan hunting and fishing license package. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been working long and hard on the package and it marks the first major increases in fees in about 15 years, although not all licenses went up in price.

This holds true for what will be called the base hunting license when the legislation takes effect March 1. The base license will cost $11 when it replaces the small game license bird and rabbit hunters are used to buying for $15.

There will also be a slight drop in fishing fees for most anglers I know, as well. Next year, instead of buying a restricted fishing license that costs $15, which includes all warm-water species, or upgrading to an all species that also includes trout and salmon for another $13, there will be one license available covering all species for $26 – a savings of $2 for most of us.

There will probably be some carp fishermen along the Detroit River who will be upset by the extra $11 they will pay to fish, but overall it looks like a good move.

However, for many sportsmen and women these slight decreases for small game hunters and trout fishermen will be offset by an increase in deer license fees. Deer tags will go from $15 each to $20 each, resulting in a 25 percent increase.

Where this will be most noticeable will be for those of us who have enjoyed the 15 percent discount when buying four or more licenses at one time.

For me, that discount provided me with the small game, all species fish and the combination deer tag – $73 worth of licenses – for about $62. Not a significant amount, but enough to feel good about it and apply it toward hunting and fishing equipment purchases.

Those licenses I used to buy will now be lumped in to a combination hunt and fish license costing $76. I believe many others in the region will fall into the same license-buying boat that I will.

On the plus side, it has been 15 years since we had any significant rise in fees, and it’s appropriate to pay a little more at this time – just think what we used to pay for a gallon of gas 15 years ago.

I should say that the fees I’ve mentioned are for resident licenses only and the biggest increases in license costs will be for non-residents. Whether this causes fewer non-residents to hunt and fish in Michigan remains to be seen.

The DNR expects the new license package to generate about $18.1 million in additional revenue in the first year, which the department will hopefully put to good use.

With the additional funds, the department plans to improve fish and wildlife habitat, hire more conservation officers and provide better outreach and education to hunters and anglers.

The license package also includes changes to the off-road-vehicle sticker, which this year cost $16 and entitled ORV drivers to operate on public land. Starting March 1, ORV drivers will pay $26.25 for a license to operate on any land other than private property, with an additional $10 charge to use state trails.

This amounts to a significant increase, particularly for state trail riders, but the extra funds expected to be generated will be used to expand state trails and connections to communities near them.

These are all lofty intentions for use of the extra funds generated by hunting, license and ORV fees, although some might say there are probably enough COs in the woods and more more should go toward game and habitat improvement efforts.

In addition, we’ll have to wait and see if the funds bolster the intended projects or there is simply a shift of other funding sources and the money gets gobbled up in the bureaucracy of Lansing.

For this year, though, I have all the licenses I need in hand and intend to enjoy the last 10 days of the brookie season, get out with my trusty 16-gauge shotgun in pursuit of ruffed grouse and woodcock and make the most out of the deer seasons in our wonderful Upper Peninsula woods.

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