Some nonresident hunters, anglers would pay less under proposal

By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service

Bethel Assante/Courtesy Photo A group of six deer roam in the backyard of Bethel Assante's home on Ninth Street in Manistee last March.

Bethel Assante/Courtesy Photo
A group of six deer roam in the backyard of Bethel Assante’s home on Ninth Street in Manistee last March.

LANSING – There may be bargain license fees ahead for some out-of state hunters and anglers, but that would mean less money for wildlife and fisheries conservation programs and activities.

An Upper Peninsula lawmaker wants to sell discounted licenses to nonresidents who own property in the state and to ex-Michiganians who formerly lived in the state for at least 10 consecutive years.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, called it a “come home to hunt” approach that would make their license fees higher than state residents pay but lower than other nonresidents.

In the 2013 license year that ended in February 2014, 1,568,760 people bought fishing or hunting licenses, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). About 14.5 percent of them – 227,678 – were from out of state.

Fees for hunting and fishing licenses rose March 1, 2014.

Casperson said many constituents have complained to his office that existing fees are “extreme” for out-of-state visiting relatives and friends they’d traditionally hunted with. In addition, “Someone who owns property may not live here but are paying taxes.”

He said the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance likes the idea.

“We didn’t go all the way” because the proposed fees would still be more than state residents pay, Casperson said. “We think there has to be some recognition of people who live here and hunt here.”

Under the bill, ex-residents paying the lower hunting fees would need to be accompanied by a relative who lives in Michigan. That restriction wouldn’t apply to property owners.

The current base hunting license that covers small game and allows hunters to buy other types of licenses – such as those for deer, turkey, bear and waterfowl – costs $11 for Michigan residents and $151 for nonresidents. Casperson’s bill would set the “qualified nonresident” fee at $75 plus a $1 DNR surcharge.

According to DNR, “The base hunting license provides critical funding for habitat and conservation work on both public and private land and supports the work of conservation officers and field staff to ensure safe, legal hunting practices are followed.”

The hunting/fishing combination license for small game, deer and fishing now costs $76 for Michigan residents and $266 for nonresidents. The bill would charge “qualified nonresidents” $132.50 plus the $1 surcharge.

Although this year’s U.P. wolf hunt has been cancelled, the bill would set a “qualified nonresident” wolf license at $250, compared with $500 for other out-of-staters and $100 for Michigan residents.

An all-species fishing license now costs $26 for residents and $76 for nonresidents.

Casperson proposed a $37.50 fee for “qualified nonresidents,” plus the $1 surcharge.

Fishing license revenue pays for fish management work on the state’s waters, habitat rehabilitation and protection, stocking, and education and outreach to anglers and the public, DNR says, adding that the department’s Fisheries Division gets no general tax dollars and “depends heavily on angler dollars collected through fishing license sales and federal excise tax from the sale of tackle.”

DNR communications officer Ed Golder said, “That new structure is in its first year of implementation. We are certainly open to examining how well it is working. We have heard concerns, for instance, about the cost for out-of-state fishing licenses. We are looking into possible solutions to that problem.”

Golder said the department hasn’t fully analyzed Casperson’s proposal and wants to make sure that any still-unknown impacts on revenue “don’t adversely affect natural resources management. In addition, we would want to make sure that implementing the bill is practical and feasible.”

Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), the state’s largest coalition of hunting and fishing groups, has no formal position on the proposal.

“The concern from our members is not if this going to decrease revenue or increase it but from the standpoint of how to do it efficiently and folks aren’t trying to game the system,” said Matt Evans, the MUCC legislative affairs manager.

Montana and Oklahoma have similar laws, he said.

Casperson acknowledged that DNR would take an economic hit if his proposal becomes law, saying, “You could make an argument upfront that you’d see some impact, but we don’t know if it’s major on the DNR budget.

“Internally, the department has shared its concern for lost revenue. I get that,” he said.

Casperson said he expects no action this year. The bill is in the Senate Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Committee.

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