By Jenny Neyman
A bill working its way through the Legislature would give the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s budget more bucks for the bang. House Bill 137 would increase hunting, fishing and trapping fees across the board.
In testimony so far, some have quibbled with details of the bill, and a few, such as Nick Steen, of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, have opposed the increases overall.
“To add a tax such as this, 15 to 20 percent, is a very onerous situation, particularly in this economy,” Steen said.
But the majority of testimony — from a wide array of hunting and fishing groups, as well as individuals — has been in favor of the increases.
For residents, fee increases would be just a few bucks in most cases. A sport fishing, hunting or trapping license would increase $5, and a combination hunting, trapping and sport fishing license would go from $53 to $60. For nonresidents, fees would increase anywhere from $5 to $100 or more for one-day licenses up to big game harvest tags.
The money would go to the Fish and Game fund, which helps cover the department’s costs in managing the state’s fish and wildlife, such as doing research, stock surveys, habitat assessments and education programs. Currently, a good chunk of Fish and Game’s state funding comes from the general fund, which is in jeopardy as the Legislature attempts to trim the state budget in the face of a looming fiscal deficit.
“The general fund being so obviously vulnerable right now, it means that a substantial wedge out of the pie that makes up those divisions’ budget could go away in large proportion pretty quickly here. … So, all in all, with the general funds diminishing, there’s need to offset that to as great a degree as possible with asking residents to pay more,” said Matt Robus, a retired director of Fish and Game’s wildlife division, testifying to the House Resources committee on March 25.
If anything, the fee increases being proposed in HB 137 are too low, Robus said. The last time fees were increased was in 1993. Just adjusting for inflation, a $25 hunting license in 1993 would cost $41 today, rather than the $30 being proposed in the bill.
“There is a great need for funding those divisions, and with general funds having been given over the last couple of decades and about to be taken away, inflation alone has put the divisions in quite a sensitive spot,” Robus said.
And the increases translate into more funding than just the extra $5, $10 there, said Doug Larsen, another former director of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Division. Fish and Game can get up to three federal dollars for every $1 the state generates.
A few amendments have been kicked around for the bill. Rep. Paul Seaton, of Homer, suggested an amendment to raise the age at which a state resident is eligible for a permanent ID card to 65, and require that the card be carried in the field and be renewed every three years, to ensure those with the card are still state residents. That amendment was withdrawn.
But another idea, to create a way for nonconsumptive users to contribute to conservation cost in the state, passed the House Resources committee. The public could purchase a decal for $20.
“A lot of tourists, nonconsumptive users, viewers, photographers, come to our state and we are looking to allow them to also participate in helping maintain fish and wildlife conservation,” Seaton.
Currently, the money raised by the sale of decals would go to the general fund, and, so, could be used by for just about anything, like paving roads or hiring teachers. Even if the money stayed with Fish and Game, it could fund funding predator control programs or research to support the state opposing an federal endangered species listing, which might not be what a wildlife watcher had in mind for their donation.
But Seaton said the intent is for the money raised by the sale of the decals to go to conservation programs only, and expects the House Finance Committee to add sideboard to the bill to ensure that happens.