Legislature shoots down comprehensive hunting license

Legislature kills comprehensive hunting license

Good ideas often take many years of persistent advocacy before winning legislative support. Someday Maine will offer an inexpensive easy-to-obtain comprehensive hunting license. But not in the next two years.

The legislature’s Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife unanimously killed LD 153, a bill to establish a single hunting license covering all hunting opportunities that Representative Dennis Keschl submitted at my request, despite the fact that a survey of hunters by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife found overwhelming support for the proposal.

Quite a few of the committee’s members actually supported the bill, but the inevitability of its defeat, and the lingering concern that many hunters would pay more than they do today for their hunting license, killed the bill. Governor Paul LePage had made it known that he would veto the bill if it was enacted, so there was little reason for legislators to stick their necks out on this controversial measure.

It also didn’t help that the Board of Directors of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine voted unanimously to oppose the measure.

The Proposal

The proposal would have eliminated nearly all of DIF&W’s more than 60 hunting licenses and permits in favor of a comprehensive license that would cost $38 for residents. That’s right, for just $38, residents would get it all, all game animals, all seasons, all bag limits. Add $17 and you’d also get a full year of fishing. Nonresidents would pay $144 for the comprehensive hunting license.

Bill Swan (center) flanked by Christl Theriault (DIF&W) and Bob Meyers (Maine Snowmobile Association)

Bill Swan (center) flanked by Christl Theriault (DIF&W) and Bob Meyers (Maine Snowmobile Association)

The original idea came from Bill Swan, DIF&W’s very capable Director of Licensing, who worked hard on the proposal and assured the IF&W Committee that, at those prices, his agency would raise the same amount of money it now raises from the confusing array of hunting licenses and permits.

But here’s the problem. In 2012, 69 percent of residents and 66 percent of nonresidents bought only a single hunting license with no additional hunting licenses or permits. Most purchased the big game license and only hunted deer. Residents currently pay $25 for the big game license while nonresidents pay $120. So these hunters would have had to pay more. And that scared legislators.

Some were also concerned that some hunters would give up hunting if the cost of the license increased $13. I noted that, if you gave up hunting to save $13, you didn’t care much about hunting. That caused my friend Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, to remind me of a time, on behalf of SAM, that I successfully defeated a proposal to hike DIF&W’s licenses by $2. My testimony had incensed Don who worked as DIF&W’s Information and Education Director at the time. Oh yea, the past comes back to haunt me sometimes!

DIF&W’s Hunter Survey

At the request of the IF&W Committee, Swan emailed a survey about this proposal to 100,000 hunters. A good 6 percent response was achieved, with slightly more than 6,000 hunters answering the 7 question survey.

A very strong 68 percent favored the comprehensive all-inclusive hunting license priced at $38.  A less comprehensive proposal, offering the current $25 big game license and the option of a package of hunting permits for an additional $6, won the support of only 39 percent of respondents.

The other survey questions sought information on what respondents currently purchased to hunt in Maine and how often they purchased those licenses and permits. Most interesting was the fact that 33 percent usually purchased multiple hunting permits, in addition to the basic license, each year.

Several committee members praised and thanked Swan for his work on the survey and this proposal.

Comments of Legislators

Legislators who reported that they talked with hunters about this proposal said they found strong support for it.

Rep. Steve Wood

Rep. Steve Wood

Rep. Steve Wood reported that 40 nonresident hunters told him they would buy the $144 license. He also talked to over 200 resident hunters, only two of whom said they would not buy a hunting license if the cost increased.

Rep. Mike Shaw, House Chair of the IF&W Committee, said everyone he talked to liked it. Both Shaw and Wood, in addition to the committee’s Senate Chair, David Dutremble, said they supported the proposal.

Benefits Missed

While the discussion focused almost entirely on that $13 increase for those who currently only purchase a big game hunting license, many benefits of the proposal were ignored.

Most important to me is to recognize that the population of hunters will continue to shrink, requiring us to encourage remaining hunters to hunt more often to stimulate the economy and keep game animal populations in check. Indeed, this is the trend throughout the country. Those of us who do hunt are spending more time and money hunting.

The comprehensive hunting license would bring substantial savings in the expensive and out-of-date MOSES online licensing system for the Fish and Wildlife Department. Every single license and permit costs the agency money. The comprehensive license would also significantly simplify the process for customers and license sellers.

A single hunting license would also reduce agent fees that are paid for every single license and permit we purchase. On behalf of SAM, I once successfully lobbied for a law that caps agent fees at $10 for hunters who purchase multiple licenses and permits in a single transaction.

DIF&W actually offers a single hunting license now, the Superpack, for $200. My proposal would give every hunter the same opportunity, for $162 less, rather than limiting it to those who can afford to pay $200 for those opportunities.

Rep. Short

Reps Stan Short (left) and Tim Marks

Reps Stan Short (left) and Tim Marks

Rep Stan Short expressed the problem with this proposal as well as anyone on the committee. “We’re going to charge 69 percent that only purchase the big game license $13 more so the 31 percent that buy more licenses and permits can pay less.”

I would argue that a comprehensive hunting license is well worth that extra $13, and most hunters, once they have it, will agree, especially as they get out and try new hunting opportunities. For Pete’s sake, their ammunition costs more than $13!

Senator David Burns said, “Many purchase only the big game license and they are not interested in more opportunities.”

I believe that is correct. I have had avid deer hunters tell me they’d go turkey hunting with me but don’t want to pay $20 for a morning or two of turkey hunting.

But there is no denying that, if we are ever to have a comprehensive all-inclusive hunting license, we’ll have to counter both of these arguments.

I liken this to the comprehensive all-inclusive fishing license. If we currently required a special permit and fee for fly fishing, and another one for ice fishing, in addition to the regular fishing license, and then added fees depending on the species of fish anglers sought, don’t you think we would all welcome one comprehensive fishing license that covered all seasons, techniques, species, an opportunities?

Someday we will have a comprehensive hunting license to match our comprehensive fishing license. But it can’t happen now until 2016 and that is disappointing.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.