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Fish, wildlife budgets hurting

Sun., April 29, 2012

Fees for kids, seniors considered in Montana

Montana hunters and anglers could pay higher fees in the future, including senior citizens and youngsters who now receive licenses at a discount.

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have been contemplating those options – along with fish and wildlife agencies throughout the West – as revenues have declined steadily over the last two years.

All states have been hurt by the national economic downturn. But Montana also suffered a severe 2010-2011 winter that reduced the number of licenses for sale in much of Eastern Montana. That was followed by spring high water last that cut fishing license sales.

Those aren’t good omens in combination with high fuel costs, the perception of a statewide decline in game numbers from wolf depredation, high unemployment and a decrease in the number of nonresident license sales.

The big hit comes from fewer hunters and anglers buying licenses across the nation.

Montana’s decline in license sales has averaged around $2 million a year for the past two years.

Nonresident fees pay for about two-thirds of FWP’s $35 million in annual operating costs; the rest comes from resident licenses. Another $11 million in license sales is earmarked for specific funds.

Nonresident hunter fees increased last year because of a statewide initiative.

“We need to make a substantial move to equalize that (nonresident vs. resident) equation,” said Commissioner Ron Moody, suggesting more must come from residents.

Daly said that by 2015, the department’s savings account will be drained. The department has slowed the expected decline by a couple of years with conservative fiscal management.

In all, the department will have to come up with a projected $10 million a year in savings and revenue increases.

Charging for licenses currently issued free is an option. The state gives away about $3 million worth of licenses a year through discounts to senior citizens, youths, former Montana residents and veterans. Commissioner Moody agreed, adding that some way to tap tourists visiting the state to view wildlife would be helpful.

“None of those folks pay a cent to fund the wildlife, unless they buy a hunting or fishing license,” Moody said. “We need to confront that.”

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