Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is seeking nonresident hunting and fishing license fee increases through the State Legislature to bring Montana's fees in line with other Western states and to reverse a revenue decline that would otherwise force cuts in services and staff within five years, FWP said today.
FWP Director Jeff Hagener said the agency's financial situation is presently defined by falling revenue and rising expenditures. "When that happens you have to cut services or increase fees," Hagener said. "At this time, we want to continue to manage the programs we've been asked to carry out. We're not looking to expand services, and we don't think it would be wise to cut programs. We're seeking the funding needed to continue offering the programs and services the people of Montana have asked us to provide."
Specific program and staff cuts have not been identified, but officials indicated that law enforcement, fish and wildlife surveys, hunting access programs, hatchery fish for stocking lakes and reservoirs, FWP lands maintenance, and information and education activities would likely be targeted for reductions if fee increases are not adopted.
The nonresident fee increase contained in House Bill 554 would boost FWP revenues by about $4 million a year. FWP funding projections show the agency facing a $7 million shortfall in 2006 that will grow to $16 million by 2007. HB554 ensures funding through 2007, allowing the agency to carry out existing programs, services and management responsibilities.
HB554, sponsored by House Majority Leader Paul Sliter, R-Somers, is scheduled for a House Fish, Wildlife & Parks Committee hearing at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Hagener stressed that the revenue decline has not caught FWP off guard nor is it a surprise to state lawmakers. "FWP managers have kept the Legislature abreast of FWP's financial situation for the past two sessions," he said. "We've explained how the rising cost of doing business and added responsibilities have and will continue to graduallyerode FWP's revenue base. HB554 would reverse the trend temporarily and bring Montana's nonresident fees in line with others in the West."
Both resident and nonresident license fees were last increased by the 1991 Legislature which adopted a two-phase process that brought fee hikes in 1992 and 1994. Those increases were intended to finance the agency until 1999. Due to a variety of reasons the funding will last five years longer than projected.
HB554 would increase nonresident costs for a conservation license, all fishing licenses, turkey, deer, elk, moose, mountain goat, big horn sheep, antelope, and black bear hunting licenses, and nonresident elk and deer permits.
Montana's nonresident fishing license, at $45 for the entire season, is priced below the Western states' average cost of about $57. Montana's nonresident elk and deer hunting licenses are sold in a combination package with additional hunting and fishing licenses which makes parallel state-to-state comparisons difficult.
For instance, Montana's $475 Nonresident Big Game Combination License includes conservation, elk, deer, upland game bird, and fishing licenses. The same licenses in Colorado, which recently raised its nonresident fees, would cost about $800. Montana's $245 Deer Combination License includes conservation, deer, upland game bird, and fishing licenses. Colorado's cost would be about $350. While Montana's nonresident combination licenses are priced similarly to an individual nonresident elk or deer license in other Western states, Montana's elk and deer hunting seasons are generally longer and more liberal offering up to 12 weeks of hunting opportunity from the early September archery season through the general rifle season which ends in late November. Finally, several of Montana's other nonresident hunting fees are the lowest in the Western region.
"We've stretched our funding several years beyond expectations and by doing so Montana has become one of the best recreational bargains in the West," Hagener said. "It's time to bring our fee structure in line with our Western neighbors and in line with the quality fishing and hunting opportunities Montana provides."
Here is a breakdown of HB 554's nonresident license fee proposal.
|License Type||Current Price||Average Price*||Proposed Price||Comments|
|Class B Nonresident Fishing||$45.00||$57.00||$60.00|
|Class B-4 - 2 day Nonresident Fishing||$10.00||$16.00||$15.00|
|Class B-7 -- Nonresident Deer||$175.00||$284.00||$250.00|
|Class B-10 Nonresident Big Game Combo***||$475.00||$880.00||$625.00||No other state has combo licenses|
|Class B-11 Nonresident Deer Combo****||$245.00||$423.00||$325.00||No other state has combo licenses|
|Moose||$475.00||$1,210.00||$1,000.00||No state charges less than $1000|
|Mountain Goat||$475.00||$1,264.00||$1,000.00||No state charges less than $1000|
|Mountain Sheep||$475.00||$1,393.00||$1,000.00||No state charges less than $1000|
|Elk Permit||$3.00||-||$50.00||No other state has similar permit|
|Deer Permit||$0.00||-||$25.00||No other state has similar permit|