|Jordan Hatch listens as wildlife issues are discussed at the RAC meeting.|
When you talk about raising hunting license fees then hunters will usually turn out to voice their opinions. The numerous hunters in attendance at the Southeastern Regional Advisory Council for the Division of Wildlife Resources listened to the new proposals without much input.
The recommendations will be an action item at the September meeting and the July 26 meeting gave information about the proposed changes.
Greg Sheehan, DWR Administrative Services Chief said any fee changes would begin July 1, 2007. He said the RAC meeting offered the best opportunity to comment, because that would give him time to incorporate any recommendations into the final proposal. Sheehan explained the DWR is operated like a self-funded business. When operating costs go up they must address changing methods. Employee costs recently went up when all employees were given a 1 percent increase after three years without an increase. This pay raise cost the division $800,000. Last December the DWR cut $700,000 out of their budget and also the legislature helped out with 2.1 million in one time money. The DWR is expected to see a $3.7 million deficit, so therefore they are considering the license fee increases.
The number of people applying for hunting permits has increased the years. In 1998 there were 50,000 applicants for 4,000 permits. This year there were 144,000 applicants for 4,400 permits with permit numbers not increasing much over the years, but 94,000 applicants have been added. For the limited entry elk, there were 26,000 applicants for 1,900 tags.
Sheehan went over Option A-purchase a hunting license before applying in the draw. This license would go to $45 for non-residents and $17 for residents. This action would result in an approximately $3.7 million increase in revenue.
Option B-purchase a bonus/preference point for point earned; $24 fee for an increase in $3.7 million.
Option C-purchase a bonus/preference point and apply for multiple once-in-a-lifetime; $12 fee for an increase of $3.7 million.
The other major revenue gathering changes would include increasing the commercial brine shrimper annual fee from $10,000 to $20,000 which would bring in $790,000 in new revenue.
Sheehan said he is questioned frequently on why Utah doesn't charge more for non-resident hunters to apply for Utah hunts. He said not a lot of permits go to non-resident hunters anyway. In the western states, Utah has the lowest percentage of out-of-state hunters with only 6 percent, Arizona with 9 percent and Wyoming and Colorado having upwards of 30 percent of their permits going to non-resident hunters. In Utah one-fourth of the revenue collected from permits is from non-residents. "We're not here to propose changes to non-residents. In other states like Idaho and Arizona, you must purchase a hunting license before you can apply in the drawings. In Wyoming you must buy bonus points. In Montana, also, you must buy a license before you put in for the draw. There are prerequisites out there."
Sheehan pointed out the advantages of charging a fee for the hunting license before you could participate in the draw saying that the federal government gives monies to the state on the number of licenses sold. Currently the DWR isn't collecting any hunting license fees from those involved in the draw without drawing out.
The DWR is concerned there are those not contributing much to the wildlife in Utah while they wait to draw out for a trophy hunt. Requiring a license purchase before applying would bring these people to a higher level of involvement in supporting Utah wildlife. The purchase of a license shows commitment. This will also hold true for the non-residents who will be required to purchase a license at $45 before they can apply for a Utah draw.
One other proposed increase is a youth fishing license for 12-13 year olds for $5. If the division charges for this age group they can also get some federal funds.
The RAC opened the discussion for questions. Board member Jordan Hatch recommended selling more permits, "More tags will generate more money, but the RAC and the Wildlife Board always shuts that down," said Hatch.
Sheehan said at this time they aren't looking at any permit number increases.
The proposed fee increases are not looking at increasing odds of applicants in the draw, but raising funds for DWR operation.
The final proposals will come before the September RAC meeting for action.