This is the third in a series of columns about bills I have proposed for the 2015 legislative session.
The bill would create a single comprehensive hunting license covering all hunting opportunities, and repeal all other hunting licenses and permits. This license will not include lottery applications or fishing licenses, except that a combination hunting and fishing license can be offered. Residents would pay $38 and nonresidents $144 for the comprehensive hunting license. A hunter safety course would also still be required to purchase this license.
A similar proposal failed last session. 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, just like our comprehensive fishing license.
Quite a few of the Fish and Wildlife Committee’s members actually liked the bill, but the inevitability of its defeat, and the lingering that many hunters would pay more than they do today for their hunting license, killed the bill. Governor Paul LePage 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.
So, you might wonder, why am I trying again. Well, because this is a great idea! And there is significant support for the proposal. Last time, a survey of hunters by DIF&W found overwhelming support for the comprehensive hunting license.
I also heard from many, including some outdoor writers, who initially opposed it and had changed their minds after hearing more about it, or who had not heard about it in time to alert their legislators to their support.
This proposal will eliminate all of DIF&W’s more than 60 hunting licenses and permits. The original idea came from Bill Swan, DIF&W’s very capable Director of Licensing, who worked hard on the proposal and assured the DIF&W Committee that, at the proposed prices, his agency would raise the same amount of money it now raises from the confusing array of hunting licenses and permits.
The major stumbling block last session was this: In 2012, 69 percent of residents and 66 percent of nonresidents purchased 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 for the comprehensive hunting license – and that scared legislators.
Some were 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!
At the request of the IFW Committee, Swan emailed a survey about this proposal to 100,000 hunters. A very 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 purchasing 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.
While the discussion last session focused almost entirely on that $13 increase for a majority of hunters, many benefits of the proposal were missed.
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 significantly simplify the MOSES process for customers and license sellers.
It would also reduce agent fees that are paid every single time we purchase a license or permit. On behalf of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, 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, purchased by about 2000 hunters. It’s the Super Pack, costing $200. My proposal would give every resident hunter the same opportunity, for $162 less, rather than limiting it to those who can afford to pay $200 for those opportunities and the convenience and addition benefits offered by the Super Pack.
I like this to the comprehensive all-inclusive fishing license. If we required a special permit and fee for fly fishing, another 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 and opportunities – and any price?
It’s time to provide all hunters with the same comprehensive license that anglers enjoy.
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