Support shown for hunting, fishing license fee increases
WORTHINGTON -- Time may be running out for the legislature to take up a proposed fee increase for hunting and fishing licenses in Minnesota, but the nearly 20 attendees at a public meeting Tuesday night in Worthington were encouraged to request a bill be introduced.
Minnesota is the top inland fishing destination in the nation, yet it hasn't increased its license fees since 2001.
As a result, the state's Game and Fish Fund has actually stagnated when factoring in inflation.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has proposed both an increase in license fees, as well as an expanded tier of options for resident and non-resident anglers, small game and deer hunters.
Under the proposal, an individual resident angler license would increase from $17 to $24, a small game license would change from $19 to $22, and a deer tag would cost $30, up from $26. There is also a new Super Sport option proposed, which would include an individual angling, small game, deer, duck, pheasant and trout license for $99 annually.
Lifetime licenses for anglers would increase significantly -- from $612 to $924 for those ages 16 to 50; and from $203 to $401 for those ages 50 and older.
Wendy Krueger, DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor, said the fee increases would generate an additional $10 million in revenue for the fisheries department, and another $4.5 million in added hunting revenue for the state each year.
Without fee increases, Krueger said the DNR will be operating in a budget deficit by 2014.
Already, the agency has opted not to fill vacancies in both wildlife and fisheries, staff is encouraged to drive less and the department has shifted to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
"We're down about 100 staff compared to where we were 10 years ago," Krueger said. Technology has helped the agency become more efficient, but they have also consolidated some field stations, and increased contracting with private individuals and companies for things like brush removal, net building and controlled burns.
Funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust (generated from Minnesota lottery proceeds) and the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment cannot be used by the DNR for operational costs or to increase the state's Game and Fish Fund. However, they do receive approximately $25 million in federal tax revenue each year -- an amount that is determined based on the state's number of licensed hunters and anglers.
Krueger said the DNR is seeking solutions for long-term stability in the Game and Fish Fund, and plans are to separate the fish revenue from the game revenue so they each have their own budget to work with. If the proposal is approved by the state, she said it would reverse the downward trend in the Game and Fish Fund.
"If it passes, we can do more for you," she said. "If it doesn't pass, we will do less with what we've got."
While non-resident license fees will also increase under the proposal, they have been kept to a minimum to maintain competitiveness in luring hunting and fishing tourism dollars.
"We've already been seeing a gradual decrease in the number of people coming to fish from out of state," said Krueger, adding that new packages are proposed for non-residents, including a 7-day family license and a lower cost youth license for those ages 16 and 17 (non-resident and resident youth angling licenses would be the same at $12 per year).
"(The DNR was) afraid that if they raised it too much, those people wouldn't be coming to our state at all," said Brian Schultz, assistant fisheries supervisor at the DNR Fisheries office in Windom. "If they don't come, the state also loses federal money."
It also loses money because fewer people are making use of the state's outdoors.
"We need more young kids getting involved in hunting and fishing," Schultz said. "Without our kids getting outdoors, we're not going to have the funds to do any of the management we do."
Krueger said Minnesota currently ranks 36th in the nation with its license fees for hunting and fishing. The proposed fee increases would move the state to 19th, just above Wisconsin and below South Dakota.
In a quick survey at Tuesday night's meeting, most in attendance supported a price increase.
Worthington's Orville Hokeness said of the potential fee increase for a small game license, "It's like a cup of coffee and a donut."
More information on the proposed license fee increases and additional license tiers can be viewed at www.dnr.state.mn.us, and clicking on the hunting and fishing heritage initiative at the bottom of the screen.