Wednesday, February 11, 2009

County officials back F&G fee increase

Fish and Game hopes to raise certain hunting and fishing fees

Express Staff Writer

Coming as it does on the heels of one of the worst economic outlooks to face the nation in years, Idaho Department of Fish and Game's requested increases to license and tag fees has generated its fair share of controversy.

If approved by the Legislature, the proposal would raise more than $5 million statewide for the agency annually. Of that, nearly 80 percent would go to maintain existing programs, cover employee compensation and handle inflation costs over the next three years, according to information from the department.

Fish and Game cannot raise license and tag fees on its own, an it doesn't receive general fund tax money from the state of Idaho.

On Tuesday, representatives from Fish and Game's Magic Valley Region presented their package of proposed license and tag fee increases to the Blaine County Commission. The intent of the Fish and Game officials was to convince the commissioners to send a letter of support to the Legislature, which may consider the proposal as soon as this week.

The Idaho House will likely consider the fee increases first, according to Fish and Game officials.

The department hasn't been given a fee increase in four years, Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Wayne Wright told the county commissioners.

"We almost have to do deficit spending to keep current programs going," Wright said. "We really do need a fee increase."

The proposed revenue increase is designed to last three years and would allow the department to implement new programs desired by hunters and anglers, Fish and Game states. If approved, the fee increases would take effect July 1.

The remaining 20 percent, or about $4 million stretched out over three years, would fund on-the-ground needs, such as habitat restoration efforts, improved access for hunters and anglers, new family fishing waters and increased hatchery fish production.

Fish and Game's proposed "fee enhancement package" requests an overall 15 percent increase in license and tag fees, down from earlier version that called for a 20 percent increase. However, not all license and tag fees would increase by that amount, Wright said.

"It's not an across-the-board revenue enhancement," he said.

Under the proposal, hunting for trophy bull elk would cost more than hunting for an antlerless elk.

The proposed fee increases generally would be less for Idaho residents compared to non-residents. For example, a resident combination license would increase by 11 percent, to $35.25, while a non-resident combination license would increase 20 percent to $238.25.

The proposal was well received by the County Commission, though Commissioner Tom Bowman wasn't present. In the end, commissioners Larry Schoen and Angenie McCleary agreed to write the Legislature in support of the plan.

"They look fairly reasonable to me," McCleary said.

Information on the full fee increases can be found on the Fish and Game's Web site.

Jason Kauffman:

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