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Gov. Snyder proposes big changes to hunting, fishing license system

Courtesy of Patrick Streit

If you like to hunt and fish, depending on what license you buy, you might have to pay more.

Governor Rick Snyder wants to make some big changes to the hunting, fishing and trapping license system in Michigan. He talked about these changes when he unveiled his proposed 2014 budget. Right now, there are 227 different license categories. Those would shrink to just 31.

Ed Golder is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says some licenses will cost more, but others will cost less (for example: there would be a base resident hunting license fee of $10. If you wanted two deer tags, that'd cost you $20 apiece, for a total of $50, compared to $30 for the same license package now). Bridge Magazine took a look at how our current hunting and fishing fees compare to other states.

It’s expected that these changes will bring in $18 million more in revenue for the DNR in 2015.

“Conservation in Michigan is funded almost entirely by hunters and anglers. So that revenue is very important and we haven’t seen any kind of general revenue increase in hunting and fishing licenses since 1997,” says Golder.

Golder says for the past decade, the DNR also has been getting less money from the state’s general fund and the agency has had to make big staff cuts.

Credit DNR
Contributions to the Michigan DNR's budget from the general fund have declined over the years.

A sportsmen's group weighs in

Just 7 percent of the DNR’s proposed operating budget for 2014 comes from the state’s general fund. The DNR also gets federal matching money.

Erin McDonough is the executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

She notes that a large part of the DNR’s budget - about 20 to 25 percent - comes from hunting, trapping and fishing license fees.

She says her group is cautiously optimistic about the governor's proposed changes.

"We hear from a lot of our members that simplification of the system is really important, that we have a really complicated license fee structure. Now, our members' biggest concern is making sure that we understand how the increased dollars are going to go to promote on-the-ground work that supports sportsmen and women."

But she says that some people might get turned off by the higher fees.

"I mean, I think you can expect some people to not purchase a license because of an increase. I mean, especially because you're looking at a lot of changes that have hit people in the state of Michigan during this difficult economic time. So, I think you'll always run that risk," says McDonough.

McDonough says if license fees are increased, her group would like to see the DNR do more habitat work.

"You know, making sure that we're putting the work, the habitat on the ground that's going to provide healthy fish and game species, expanding hunter access, making sure that our state game areas which are in the southern part of the state are properly managed. Fish hatcheries, those are important; research is important as well."

Governor Snyder also proposed that $3.5 million from the general fund be used to train and support 25 new conservation officers.

From his budget proposal:

The governor recommends $2.9 million ongoing and $600,000 one-time general fund for a conservation officer school with the goal of adding 25 new officers to protect the state’s natural resources, enhance law enforcement in rural communities, and improve public safety. This represents a 14 percent increase from the 173 sworn officers currently on board bringing the projected conservation officer count to 198. Each new officer will participate in a 22-week officer academy and an 18-week on-the-job field training probationary period. The last conservation officer school was held in fiscal year 2007 and graduated 14 officers. Conservation officers are fully commissioned as state peace officers, with full power and authority to enforce Michigan’s criminal laws. They are a unique class of law enforcement officer, whose duties include enforcing regulations for outdoor recreational activities such as off-road vehicle use, snowmobiling, boating, hunting and fishing.

McDonough says more COs are desperately needed.

"Right now, we do not even have one conservation officer in every county. Now, conservation officers do a lot more than just fish and game enforcement. They do trail enforcement, you know, ORV, snowmobiles, they're checking in on the parks; they're making sure that everything is safe for people in the state of Michigan to use. When you don't have at least one person per county helping to both enforce the laws that are on the books and serve as that conduit for information, it really puts us at a disadvantage. That's one of the number one comments that I get from people, is that we need improved enforcement. I mean, you can write every restrictive, prescriptive rule in the book, but if you don't have any enforcement, how are you going to manage?"

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.