Starting next year, hunters and sportfishermen will have to put up a little more cash for their licenses and tags.
The Legislature passed a bill in May that raises the fees for sportfishing, hunting and trapping licenses and institutes a fee for personal-use fishing in the Chitina Subdistrict of the Copper River. A resident sport fishing license will cost $29 in 2017, a $5 increase from 2016. A residential hunting license will cost $45, a $20 increase, and a trapping license will cost $25, a $10 increase.
The fee increase is the first time in 10 years that sportfishing license fees have increased and the first time in 24 years for hunting licenses and tags, according to an Oct. 26 news release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The fee increases are expected to raise an additional $3.4 million in fishing license fees and $5.5 million in hunting license fees for a total of approximately $9 million, according to the May 11, 2016 fiscal note attached to the bill.
A few other things will change, too. HB 137 raises the minimum age for licensure from 16 to 18, and the bill upped the threshold for low-income licenses to the federal minimum threshold of $29,820 from the historical $8,200.
The increases both are and aren’t meant to help staunch the bleeding state budget. The fees from licenses aren’t going into the state’s general fund. By statute, the fees from licenses and tags are all deposited into the Fish and Game Fund, which Fish and Game can use for repaying bonds financing fisheries rehabilitation, construction and development projects for sportfishing, according to state statute.
However, they also go to leverage additional federal money that supports wildlife conservation and fish stocking and habitat restoration efforts. Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation gets a major portion of its funding from a federal program based on the Pittsman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, a law passed nearly 80 years ago. The Division of Sport Fisheries gets similar funds from a companion law called the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act.
“In order for states to get (Pittman-Robertson) money, we have to match it three to one, three federal dollars for every one state dollar … and you have to match it with your state license dollars,” said Maria Gladziszewski, the deputy director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.
The federal act leverages a tax on firearm and ammunition sales that goes toward wildlife conservation. In fiscal year 2016, the state got approximately $22.4 million in federal funds, matched by $7.4 million in state funds. That’s significantly more than even two years ago, when the state received $18.8 million in federal funds, matched by $6.2 million.
Firearm sales have been steadily climbing since President Barack Obama took office in 2008, steadily increasing the funds available through the Pittsman-Robertson fund. However, because the state’s license fees remained relatively flat, the state hasn’t been able to leverage more of those grant funds, Gladziszewski said.
“Because of that, more dollars were available for us,” she said. “Our licenses couldn’t keep up with them.”
The bill also provides a new tool — the development of the “conservation decal.” Essentially, Fish and Game will be able to sell stickers for $20, and the funds will go to fill in funding for projects that may not fall under the guidelines for funding elsewhere, Gladziszewski said. Funding for conservation of nongame species is a challenge for many states’ wildlife managers, she said.
“Basically, (the decal) is to fund the programs that these funds can’t,” she said. “…The tagline for that is ‘keeping common species common.’”
The bill received support from a number of stakeholder groups. The license fee increase will help bolster wildlife management to keep Alaska’s wildlife populations healthy and isn’t burdensome, said Rod Arno, the executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Council.
“It’s an insignificant increase for the opportunity that’s available,” he said. “And we still have the low income … for anyone who really isn’t in the income base. For those living a subsistence lifestyle, it’s not going to negatively affect them one bit. The one that it really hits the most are the nonresident hunters.”
The picture is somewhat different for sportfishing. The Dingell-Johnson Act’s funds are based on excise taxes on fishing equipment, import duties on fishing tackle, yachts and pleasure craft and a portion of the gasoline fuel tax attributable to small engines and motorboats, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Between June 2015 and May 2016, Fish and Game received approximately $9.2 million in federal funds for sport fish restoration in four grants.
Unlike for hunting, the state doesn’t have a large balance of unused funds because of a lack of matching from license fees, said Lisa Evans, the assistant director for the Division of Sport Fish. There hasn’t been the burst of activity the way there has with guns, she said.
The fishing license fees will be used to offset cuts in general fund dollars to the Division of Sport Fish, as well as make up for some expiring capital project appropriations and third-party funded projects, she said in an email. The division is also in the process of evaluating what projects it can continue to operate with the budget cuts and is talking to stakeholders about what projects they find most valuable, she said.
The license fees can only be used for activities that directly benefit anglers, she said in an email. The increase will allow the division to re-evaluate some of the management activities in the division’s five-year strategic plan that are most likely to be affected by cuts to general fund support or expiring capital projects, like stock assessment projects, stocking, invasive species management and habitat projects, she said.
One of the new fees, the $15 for Chitina personal-use fishery permits, will be transferred to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities for trash removal, restroom maintenance and trail access to the fishery, she said in an email.
“We’ve cut our budget for the past six or seven years, we’ve been reducing spending to match our revenues,” she said. “We’ve taken a healthy look at what have we taken off of our funding. (For example) are there research projects that are causing those gaps in management that we need to put back in the water?”
For a full list of license and hunting tag fees beginning Jan. 1, 2017, visit Fish and Game’s website at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/home/pdfs/2016_2017_alaska_license_fees.pdf.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.