Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 8, 2013

Snyder wants to up hunting and fishing license fees

By JOHN FLESHER
Associated Press writer

TRAVERSE CITY — Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday proposed hiking some of Michigan's hunting and fishing license fees to raise money for outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation programs.

The fees are included in the Republican governor's proposed budget and would be the first significant increases since 1997, officials with the Department of Natural Resources said. Snyder also requested more money for the DNR from the general fund, the state's primary checkbook.

If the funding package is approved by the Legislature, it would provide more than $28 million in new revenue, enabling the department to hire 41 additional conservation officers and improve parks, waterway, trails and habitat for fish and game.

DNR Director Keith Creagh said the proposal is fitting considering the role outdoor recreation plays in supporting the state's economic recovery.

"Michigan doesn't have to take a back seat to anybody on world-class resources," he said, adding that the plan was devised in consultation with sporting groups that understand the need for more money. The license fees' purchasing power has eroded 45 percent since the last general increase, officials said.

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which represents hundreds of outdoor groups, released a statement that stopped short of endorsing the increases but praised the Snyder administration for providing more information about how revenue generated from license fees is used.

"We are currently evaluating the proposal and taking a hard look at current DNR spending," Executive Director Erin McDonough said.

The proposal would boost yearly revenue from hunting and fishing license sales from $48.2 million to $66.6 million — a nearly 40 percent increase, with the biggest hikes imposed on out-of-state residents.

It would create a "base" hunting license costing $10 for most in-state residents, with lower rates for youths and seniors. For out-of-state hunters, the price would be $150.

The base license would pay for hunting waterfowl, migratory birds and small game such as rabbits and squirrels. But separate fees still would be levied for hunting game species, and some would go up.

Tags for deer would rise from $15 to $20, and the bear license would go from $15 to $25. Turkey license fees would remain unchanged at $15 per season.

Licenses to fish for particular species, which cost $15, would be eliminated. The fee for a seasonal all-species license would drop from $28 to $25 for in-state residents while rising from $42 to $75 for anglers from elsewhere. The price of a one-day fishing license would rise from $7 to $15.

The off-road vehicle license cost would rise from $16.25 to $26.25, with the extra revenue earmarked mostly to improve the 3,700-mile trail network, Creagh said.

In addition to the fee increases, Snyder is asking for a 57 percent jump in funding for the DNR from the general fund, from $17.6 million this year to $27.2 million in 2014-15.

The biggest chunk of new money sought for the department would pay for new conservation officers, boosting their ranks from 173 to 214. Their numbers have dwindled over the years and are expected to fall further without new hires, as 54 are eligible for retirement by 2019.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said during a briefing for legislators that Michigan ranks 19th nationally in the number of conservation officers.

"This is an area ... that's been sacrificed in the past and we need to continue to make investment in," he said.

Spending also would increase by $1 million for cold-water fisheries habitat improvements and nearly $1 million for more fish rearing and stocking. Grants totaling about $2 million would go to outside organizations for habitat improvements in inland lakes and streams, while nearly $1.5 million would be distributed for increasing acreage managed for wildlife habitat.

AP-WF-02-07-13 2200GMT