Fee hike proposal advances

Lansing — New legislation designed to simplify Michigan’s hunting and fishing license system and raise $19.7 million in additional revenues for DNR fish and game programs and marketing is making its way through the state Legislature.

As of press time, HB 4668, introduced by Rep. John Bumstead, R-Newaygo, was expected to pass the House and move to the state Senate.

“We don’t know what will happen in the Senate,” said Amy Trotter, resource policy manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. “Both the House and Senate have built this money into the appropriations bills. They are counting on it to balance the budget, but we don’t know the precise details of how the Senate might structure the fees.

“We are supporting the bill, and the simplification (it provides) is nice,” Trotter said.

HB 4668 restructures Michigan’s hunting and fishing license system by reducing the number of licenses offered from 277 to 40 and raises and lowers various fees. It does away with the state’s small game license and adds a “base” license that all hunters will be required to have, along with additional permits for various game species. The base license alone would allow small-game and non-waterfowl migratory bird hunting, according to a House Fiscal Agency Legislative Analysis.

Additional tags or permits would be required to hunt deer, turkey, bear, elk, and other fur-bearing animals.

Waterfowl hunting also would require an additional license. The proposed state fee for that license would be $12, up from $5.

Michigan waterfowl hunters are supporting the increase. There are approximately 45,000 hunters who hunt waterfowl in Michigan.

“The Michigan waterfowl stamp was one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the country,” said Gildo Tori, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes Atlantic regional office in Ann Arbor. “That money was restricted only to acquisition. We saw this as an opportunity to have waterfowl hunters pay a bit more and have that money for both acquisition and restoration (of wetlands) in Michigan.

“In the past, only $3.50 was available for conservation, and this approach almost triples that,” Tori said.

HB 4668 specifies that $2.50 from each waterfowl license would be used to operate, maintain, and develop managed waterfowl areas and that $3.50 would be used to purchase wetlands and other lands for waterfowl management. 

Tori said no arm twisting was necessary to gain support for the fee increase in the waterfowling community.

“People were realizing that license fees for duck hunting in Michigan were pretty low,” he said.

MUCC has received few complaints about the proposed new fees, according to Trotter, but the organization is concerned about the absence of across-the-board discounts for youth ages 10 to 16. That provision was not included in the current version of the bill, which was put forth by the DNR and Gov. Rick Snyder, according to Trotter.

“We will be one of the few states in the nation that doesn’t have a discount for youth,” Trotter said. “This will be a test of economic theory; we will see how willing Michigan parents are to get their kids outdoors.”

The bill does require $1 from each base license sold to a minor child go to a Youth Hunting and Fishing Education and Outreach Fund.

It also creates a $1 surcharge on top of the base, fishing, and combination hunting and fishing license that is earmarked for marketing, education, and outreach, based on a model used in Colorado. The surcharge is expected to generate $1.6 million annually for marketing hunting and fishing programs.

The changes are expected to result in a 7-percent decline in hunting licenses sold, due to resistance to license fee changes. Trotter said she is not concerned, because that decline is likely to be the result of not having separate licenses for firearms deer hunting and archery.

The bill calls for combination hunting and fishing licenses for residents and nonresidents, a deer license that can be used by either archers or gun hunters, a separate antlerless deer license, and deer management assistance permits.

A regular deer license would cost $20, up from $15 now. Added to the base license, a resident would pay $31 to hunt deer, including the $1 surcharge for marketing and outreach. Hunting antlerless deer would cost the same.

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