BOISE – Instead of raising more revenue, a fee increase hitting out-of-state hunters and anglers has resulted in less money flowing to the Idaho Fish and Game Department this year.
“Usually in Idaho we sell out right away when it comes to our nonresident deer and elk hunters, and at this time we are not sold out and we’re seeing a lag,” said Fish and Game Director Cal Groen. “We have tags left over.”
Hunters from outside the state cited the fee increase, the poor economy and the state’s growing wolf population as reasons they’re staying away this year.
Lawmakers had considered a proposal to charge more for the most popular hunts – a plan intended to raise an extra $7 million a year – but instead approved a more modest increase only on out-of-state residents. If nonresident tag sales held steady this year, the change was expected to net $2.5 million more.
That hasn’t happened.
Three months into the state’s new fiscal year, revenue from tag sales is 9 percent, or about $1 million, below the same point last year, said Jim Lau, chief of the bureau of administration for Fish and Game.
Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said she anticipated that would happen. That’s why she voted against the fee increase, she said.
“People just can’t afford it – it was just totally unfair to put it all on out-of-state hunters,” Broadsword said. “They put a lot of money into our economy when they come to our state to hunt, especially up in my district. They stay in the hotels sometimes, they eat in the restaurants, they buy their supplies from the stores, they rent cabins.”
Nonresidents comprise about a third of Idaho’s hunters and normally account for 70 percent of the revenue from big-game tag sales.
This year, a nonresident deer tag costs $300, up from $256.75 last year; a nonresident elk tag now costs $415, up from $370.75; and a nonresident hunting-fishing license is $235, up from $198.
Fees for residents remain $18 for a deer tag, $29 for an elk tag and $31.75 for a combination license.
Concerned about the revenue drop, state officials sent a survey to 30,000 out-of-staters who previously hunted deer or elk in Idaho. Respondents said there are three issues keeping them away this year: wolves, the nonresident fee increase and the economy.
“Obviously, we’re going to do everything we can to turn those numbers around and sell more tags,” Lau said. “On the one hand, while the revenues haven’t met our expectations, like all other state agencies we’ve reduced our spending. So overall, the financial position of the department is OK.”
The Fish and Game Department receives no general state tax funds, getting by instead almost entirely on license and tag sales.
The department does not plan to propose additional fee increases in 2010.