The recent federal government shutdown due to budget problems makes us aware that state fish and game agencies depend heavily on license fees to pay the bills, as well as regulate numbers and locations of hunters and what game they can take. Years ago, licenses cost less than a box of shells. Today, there is considerable variation in license costs from state to state but a lot of them are no longer cheap. That discourages some folks from going afield and that comes back on the agencies that rely on license funds.

Let’s look at some examples of costs of current hunting licenses.

In New Mexico, a resident small game license is $15, and $65 for a non-resident. Annual hunting and fishing licenses are $30 for residents, unless you are over 65 when they drop to $20 (senior fishing licenses have no charge). There is no state migratory waterfowl stamp. Deer licenses are $42 for residents and $290 for non-residents. Elk licenses for residents are $61 antlerless and $91 for mature bulls, and $555 for non-residents.

In California a resident small game license runs $45.98, and a non-resident small game license runs $159.58. If you want to hunt waterfowl , it’s $20.01 for a state waterfowl stamp, and for upland game birds there’s another stamp for $9.46. That’s about $90 for a resident to go small game hunting, just for the license.

Michigan has some of the lowest fees for hunting and fishing licenses in the Great Lakes area. Resident small game and deer licenses are both $15. Senior and junior resident small game licenses are $6. Non-resident Michigan small game licenses are $69 all season, and a three-day non-resident small game license is $30. The state waterfowl stamp is $5.

In New York, a resident big and small game license is $29 and a resident small game-only license is $26. A bowhunting license for deer for hunters 70 years or older is free if you buy the big game license. Otherwise, it’s $21 with a big game license.

Texas resident hunting licenses are $25. Youth and senior licenses are $7. Non-resident general hunting licenses are $315.

Colorado resident small game licenses are $15.25, or $1 for kids under 16. Non-resident small game licenses are $40.25. State waterfowl stamps are $5. Bull elk are $46 for residents and $586 for non-residents. Deer are $10 resident and $351 non-resident.

In Alaska a resident hunting license is $25 and the waterfowl stamp is $5. The cost of a non-resident hunting license is $85.

Most all states give active military servicemen a break on license fees. Kids under 16 and seniors 65 and up also deserve a break. Yes, lifetime licenses are a real bargain if you can afford the initial cost.

I could go on, but my ultimate point is that you can’t make hunting solely a rich man’s sport if you want to keep the numbers of people participating up. So long as state agencies primarily rely on license revenues and federal excise tax money from Pitman-Robinson Act sales for funding, licenses can’t be too costly, or you end up with people hunting out-of-state more cheaply than non-residents elsewhere.

The overall annual budget for fish and game agencies in the 50 states is over $2 billion. About 30 percent of the average agency’s funding comes from federal sources, largely from Pittman-Robinson Act money. Hunters like to proudly say that license money funds fish and game agencies. While that’s true, the overall percentage of is agency revenues from licenses about 35 percent. The percentage of agency funding from license sales varies from state to state and across the nation it’s declining. Approximately 35 percent of state agency budgets on average comes from general revenues. This becomes hard to justify in tight budget times, and so cuts get made, hurting the resource and the outdoorsmen and women who enjoy it.

Hunting and fishing license sales now pay for only about 16.6 percent of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s budget. That drop in revenue not only hurts the agency’s ability to do its job, it also translates into more and more general funds have to be used to pay bills for wildlife conservation in general, and hunters and fishermen have less influence in state wildlife policy.

A reflection of this is that California recently changed the name of its state agency from the Department of Fish and Game to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to reflect their responsibility to manage of many non-game species. This name shift also reflects the expansion of focus for game wardens. The wildlife laws that govern what California wardens already do are published in the Fish and Game Code that’s over an inch thick. This is only going to increase in the future.

A very good and strong case can be made for the importance of hunting in wildlife management, especially as wildlife populations in urban areas increase. This gives hunting a strong anchor if and when it ever comes to politicos arguing about whether hunting is valuable to a state at all.

For some hunters, the cost of licenses is no big deal. For others, it’s a king’s ransom. How about some new ways to increase money for state agencies?

Some folks don’t like auctioning licenses to the highest bidder, but it can sometimes bring in substantial money. Wild sheep tags raffled at Wild Sheep Foundation conventions may bring in upwards of $250,000 each, for example.

I would also suggest that creating ways for people to volunteer to help agency employees could help save some money. In exchange, the volunteers could get reduced rates or free licenses, or special access to certain areas or certain days.

One positive step forward is that California has recently created a special $5 game warden sticker that you can buy at any license agent. Money from the sale of these stamps goes to support game warden training and education. More strategies like this to raise funds helps keep the price of licenses within reason.

Considerations for new funding strategies for state resource agencies are underway in many states. The more that hunting and fishing can be worked into the revenue streams for the agencies, the stronger their place will be in the future. Let your legislators know what you think.

Image courtesy California Fish and Wildlife Department

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