Lansing — New hunting and fishing license fee rates that took effect this year resulted in about an $8 million increase in revenue over the last fiscal year, but the added money is about $3 million less than officials anticipated.
DNR officials believe several factors contributed to the less-than-expected increase in license revenue, including frigid cold weather and snow leading up to deer season, as well as fewer deer and issues with nonresident licenses.
In total, Michigan sold 2,303,660 hunting licenses to 727,307 individuals between March 1, 2014 and the end of the year, compared with 2,040,982 licenses sold to 777,303 hunters during the same timeframe last year. The increase in the number of total licenses sold was due to the new license structure that requires hunters to first buy a base license before purchasing tags for specific species.
For deer license sales in particular, 663,746 individual hunters purchased 1,371,077 licenses in 2014, a significant decrease from 1,531,984 licenses purchased by 710,186 hunters a year earlier.
Fishing licenses also were down, from 1,204,080 licenses purchased by 1,140,176 anglers in 2013 to 1,128,965 licenses purchased by 1,076,440 anglers last year, according to DNR data.
Financially, those figures resulted in license revenues of $57,242,319 in fiscal year 2014, roughly $8 million more than the $49,329,970 generated in fiscal year 2013. A $1 surcharge on hunting and fishing licenses last year also contributed an additional $1.3 million toward a campaign to educate the public about the symbiotic relationship between outdoorsmen and conservation.
DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason said officials had hoped to take in about $11 million in added revenue with the new license fees, but “this year is unfortunately a really (bad) year to calculate a baseline.”
Many areas of the Upper Peninsula experienced heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures heading into the opening day of deer season, which forced many to stay home.
“Probably the biggest impact was the horrible winter we had – starting on Veteran’s Day through the first day of the deer season,” Mason told Michigan Outdoor News, adding that deer license sales during that time are “absolutely critical” for the department.
“You couldn’t get to your camp with a 4-wheeler,” he said. “You needed a snow machine.”
Those who did purchase licenses “had no expectation of shooting two deer,” he said, so many opted for a single license instead of a combination license. DNR officials also issued few to no antlerless deer licenses in U.P. deer management units in order to provide enough depredation permits for farmers, Mason said.
Mason and DNR spokesman Ed Golder said the decrease in the number of individual hunters and anglers buying licenses due to higher license fees under the new system was less than anticipated. DNR officials predicted a 7-percent defection rate, while the decline was 6.4 percent for hunters and 5.6 percent for anglers, Golder said.
“We don’t know that all that decrease is related to costs necessarily,” Golder added.
Both Golder and Mason noted that Wisconsin also experienced a decrease in license sales last year.
Other issues that likely played into the decrease in individual buyers could be tied to overly expensive nonresident licenses, as well, Mason said.
Nonresidents could no longer buy seven-day turkey and waterfowl licenses, for example, and were required to first purchase base licenses. Out-of-state duck hunters also were required to buy a duck stamp on top of the more expensive waterfowl license, which likely convinced some to stay home, Mason said.
“It would be better if we could sell them a seven-day license with the duck stamp on top of that,” he said.
The new license structure also required nonresident deer hunters to pay over $100 for a second license, which Mason believes is “a ridiculously high price.”
Buying patterns also changed with fishing licenses, as nonresidents purchased fewer full-season licenses and more three-day licenses, officials said.
Golder noted that while license sales revenue came in under projections, the new fee structure did result in a substantial increase that has resulted in more habitat-improvement grants, conservation officers, and on-the-ground fish and wildlife management.
“It’s less than we anticipated, but it is an increase,” Golder said. “We’re going to look at buying patterns … going forward based on this first-year experience.”
Mason said he’s unsure how the lower revenue will impact operations, but stressed that “we are going to do everything we can with the revenue that was generated.
“We’re still going to be able to do a lot of good work,” he said.