Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pa. Game Commission Wants Fee Hikes, Must Convince Sportsmen To Buy In

By Bob Frye 
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has some work to do.
Last week, agency officials said they are seeking the first increase in the cost of hunting and furtaking licenses since 1999.
Only once before in the commission's 120-year history — the years from the Great Depression through World War II — has it gone longer.
The commission survived this latest stretch because midway through, it “simply got lucky” in being able to capitalize on the demand for Marcellus shale gas under its state game lands, deputy director Rich Palmer said.
That boom “is pretty much over,” Palmer said. And without any new money, the commission is facing a $12 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year — one that could grow to $36 million by the 2019-20 fiscal year, he said.
Executive director Matt Hough said a license price hike is the answer.
The commission wants to increase the cost of resident general adult hunting and furtaking, archery, bear, muzzleloader, migratory game bird, antlerless deer and second spring gobbler tags by a factor of two, three and, in cases, five over the next five years. That, Palmer said, would secure the agency's funding needs for a decade.
“We didn't just pick a number for a license increase. It is calculated based on our projected needs to accomplish the agency's mission,” Palmer said.
It also is based on history.
“The reason that was selected is we know a 50 percent increase on that general license is politically achievable. And it's also within the tolerable range of sportsmen,” Palmer said.
The commission can't raise fees on its own. Only state lawmakers have that authority. Palmer said they have told the commission they are open to taking that step in time for next year but only after it convinces sportsmen to get behind the idea.
That is where it has some work to do.
A poll of several statewide sportsmen's organizations revealed mixed feelings about a fee hike.
The United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania is supporting the proposed increases, even though the cost of an archery stamp would go from $15 to $30 in five years, said the group's president, Rick Conley of Manheim.
Traditionally, license fee hikes are meant to last seven or eight years, he said. The commission has gone nearly 16.
“So this is coming up on the second increase they should have had,” he said.
Maybe more importantly, he added, a Pennsylvania hunting license would remain a relative bargain.
Right now, according to commission figures, only in Hawaii does it cost a hunter less to get a resident license good for killing an antlered deer, spring and fall turkey, small game and waterfowl. Even if a license goes to $39, Pennsylvania still would be in the bottom 10 or so states price-wise, Palmer added.
“So even this increase wouldn't move us very far up the list,” Conley said.
The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs generally is supportive of a fee increase, too, said president Lowell Graybill of Elizabethtown. But he wouldn't go so far as to say the group's members will favor this proposal exactly. Some members might balk at “the idea of paying twice as much to play.”
“I think there's going to be a lot of understanding of the need,” Graybill said. “What I'm not sure of is if our organization is going to come back fully supportive of the proposal, or the extent of the proposal.”
The Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania will not support any move to increase prices, said president Randy Santucci of McKees Rocks.
Sportsmen are the agency's primary constituency — license sales account for 40 percent of its revenues — yet the commission isn't good lately at considering their wants and needs, Santucci said. For example, the group for years has lobbied the commission to grow the deer herd substantially.
It has made only token changes, though, he said.
“I guess we'd like to be a team player,” Santucci said. “But everyone's got to have the same color jersey on. I don't think that's always the case here.”
The commission will have to convince some lawmakers of the need to increase license costs, said Hugh Baird, spokesman for state Sen. Jim Brewster, the Allegheny County Democrat who serves as minority chairman of the Senate game and fisheries committee. Some understand the commission needs additional revenue to “preserve the resource.” Others do not, he said.
“It's contact. It's education. It's making people aware of the needs that are out there,” Baird said.
Those needs are real, Palmer said. If the commission has to balance future budgets without new revenue, “significant” changes for the worse in habitat development, disease management and more inevitably will result, he added.
That is the reality sportsmen face, Graybill said.
“It's pretty apparent we're going to see either programs cut and services cut, or we're going to have to pay the price,” he added.
The proposal
A look at the Pennsylvania Game Commission's proposed license fee increases. If enacted — even accounting for a 3 percent drop in license sales — the hikes are projected to bring in almost $40 million in new revenue in Year 1, $48.6 million in Year 3 and $57.1 million in Year 5 from resident hunters and $8.8 million, $10.5 million and $12 million from nonresidents. The commission hopes to have the new fees in place by the 2016-17 license year.
                       Current    Year 1    Year 3     Year 5
License type     price      price        price         price
Resident adult   $19        $29          $34          $39
Bear                  $15        $20          $25          $30
Archery              $15       $20           $25          $30
Muzzleloader    $10        $20           $25          $30
Furtaker            $19        $29           $34          $39
Migratory game bird $2   $5             $7.50       $10
Special wild turkey license $20 $25 $27.50     $30
Antlerless deer $5          $10           $12.50      $15
Ultimate sportsmen N/A $125         $150         $175
• Each license would have an additional $1.70 attached to it for issuing agent and automated licensing system fees.
• There would be no change in the cost of junior, junior combo and senior resident licenses, or in the cost of bobcat, fisher or elk licenses.
• The “ultimate sportsmen” license would be something new. It would give the person who buys resident hunting and furtaking, archery, bear, muzzleloader, migratory game bird and second spring gobbler tags a price break. Buying them individually in a year's time would cost $148 under Year 1 of the increases, $178 in Year 3 and $208 in Year 5. Buyers of an ultimate sportsmen license would get them for $125, $150 and $175, respectively.
• Nonresident license fees also would increase under the proposal, in all the same categories.
Source: Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be moderated. Anyone may comment.