Michigan House bill would create lifetime licenses

Lansing — A Wayne County lawmaker wants to revive lifetime hunting and fishing licenses in Michigan to provide a broader licensing option, and to encourage sportsmen to take on multiple species.

Michigan Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, introduced House Bill 5334, with no known opposition or support from outdoor groups, to provide lifetime licenses for hunting and fishing, as well as a comprehensive lifetime license that would also cover bear, waterfowl, and fur-harvesting permits.

LeBlanc said the legislation spawned from conversations with hunters who hold lifetime licenses purchased before the state stopped offering them in 1990. A select group of hunters likely would buy a lifetime license if given another opportunity, he said.

Officials with the DNR and Michigan United Conservation Clubs, meanwhile, are concerned that offering lifetime licenses could negatively impact federal funding, and complicate wildlife management efforts.

“The state had this at one time and … I happen to know people who bought the licenses. I think there is an opportunity for expansion in those who hunt and fish,” LeBlanc told Michigan Outdoor News.

“It’s like if you buy the lifetime all-encompassing license, you might be more likely to try something” different in the field.

HB 5334 includes individual lifetime licenses for small game for $220, and firearms deer and archery deer hunting for $285 apiece. Lifetime fishing licenses would cost $220. The legislation also would create a $1,025 comprehensive lifetime hunting and fishing license that would cover small game, firearms and archery deer, bear, waterfowl, and fur-harvesting seasons.

Kent Wood, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the group hasn’t developed a position on LeBlanc’s legislation. MUCC is supportive in concept of multi-year and comprehensive licenses, Wood said, but is concerned about how lifetime licenses would impact federal conservation funding.

“We have a resolution that will be debated by our membership (this summer) … that would ask the DNR to develop a comprehensive license that would cover multiple species or multiple seasons,” Wood said. “We would be supportive of the concept of a multi-year license, and maybe a lifetime license, but there are some questions that need to be answered – especially questions that relate to federal funding.

DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason believes lifetime hunting and fishing licenses are “something we would want to avoid like the plague.”

Mason said lifetime licenses potentially would create increased revenue for the DNR in the short term, but “there are issues with obtaining federal (funding) match in the out years.”

“Lifetime licenses sound like a good idea, but they have negative financial consequences and management consequences, especially for highly sought-after species,” Mason said.

Federal funding for conservation work is based on several factors, including the number of unique hunters who buy a license each year and the amount of revenue generated from license sales to match federal funds.

Sharon Schafer, the DNR’s chief budget officer, said 3,135 hunters and anglers who purchased lifetime licenses when the state offered them in 1989 are counted each year toward the total number of Michigan license buyers, and the $1 million generated by the sales are held in a trust with a portion withdrawn each year based on the licenses used.

That money counts toward the required federal fund match, so “our federal funding wouldn’t be affected by” the legislation in the short term, Schafer said. “But the issue with this bill is the fees included for the licenses are just not sufficient” to sustain wildlife and habitat work in Michigan.

A child who obtains a lifetime comprehensive license would contribute a total of $1,025 for decades of hunting and fishing licenses, she said.

“You have to spread it out over their lifetime,” Schafer said.

The comprehensive lifetime licenses previously sold by the state also cause problems when new regulations are developed, Mason said.

He cited the “long and complicated process” for current lifetime license holders to obtain a bear tag through the lottery system as an example.

“A lifetime license holder would come up and say ‘When I bought this, I could hunt bear wherever I wanted, every year,’” Mason said.

LeBlanc acknowledged that lifetime licenses could have funding implications, but said he doesn’t believe enough hunters or fishermen would purchase the licenses to put much of a dent in the DNR’s budget.

“I don’t view it the same way I view lifetime trailer licenses, for example,” LeBlanc said, pointing out that the permanent trailer plates are mandatory for everyone. “My bill doesn’t involve everybody that hunts; it would impact a select group of individuals who voluntarily chose to buy the lifetime licenses.

“I don’t think it would be a large enough population to negatively affect the DNR,” he said.

HB 5334 currently is in the House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee.

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