Sportsmen Support License-Fee Increases, But Want Assurances

Most sportsmen seem to be generally in favor of a proposed license-fee increase, but there’s a strong sentiment that any additional funding needs to be used for hunting and fishing improvement and programs.

Much of the support begins on a personal level. Most of us probably go to church with, have kids on the same ball teams as, or live down the road from folks who work with the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD). Whether law-enforcement rangers, wildlife and fisheries technicians and biologists, or folks who keep everyone straight in the offices, the men and women of WRD are some of the best.

Supporting these folks and their efforts to make hunting and fishing better in Georgia is something most sportsmen can get behind. And right now, sportsmen are being asked to get behind efforts to raise hunting and fishing license fees. WRD has cut services to sportsmen over the years because of mandated budget cuts, and WRD says more money would allow the agency to return those services and also enhance and start new efforts.

Georgia’s resident license fees haven’t increased since 1992, and Georgia’s current fees are either the least expensive or close to it in every category among 16 Southeastern states.

Seven open meetings were held last month to promote WRD’s license-fee initiative, but attendance was light.

Reggie Dickey, president of the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation (GHFF), said sportsmen are generally in favor of the increase, but they need assurances on how sportsmen’s money is spent.

“We’ve still got some questions,” Reggie said regarding the proposed license-fee increase. “If the money is going to go where we want it to go, we’re OK with it. The hunters I’ve talked to are OK with the increase, but only if it’s going to go to the right projects. If the money is going to be used to hire more rangers for law enforcement, we’re OK with it. If it’s going to go to fixing more access to WMAs, then we’re OK with it. But if it’s going to hire more biologists for more bird-watching places, we’re not for it.”

Sportsmen need to believe that WRD is a government agency that works well for them. We need to be able to trust that WRD—with efficiency and effectiveness—puts sportsmen first, that making our hunting and fishing the best it can be as the agency’s No. 1 priority. We certainly pay our way with license fees and a hefty federal tax on hunting and fishing equipment.

Support from sportsmen is critical if license fees are going to be raised because doing so will take legislative action. However, the climate from our conservative Georgia legislature and our governor has been the opposite of higher fees. Across-the-board reduced spending—budget cuts—for all government agencies has been standard.

These cuts have certainly affected WRD. Each year the agency has produced a list of cuts to programs and personnel to fulfill those mandated budget cuts. Go back through your back issues of GON magazine, and you’ll see that year after year GON called for WRD to be exempt from mandated budget cuts because sportsmen were paying the bill. While opposed to the mandated cuts, GON also began to ask, “What’s not being cut?” Confidence that sportsmen’s money is spent on hunting and fishing projects is paramount going forward, particularly if sportsmen are to get behind a license-fee increase.

There are two license-fee proposals, one by WRD and one by the Georgia Wildlife Federation.

WRD proposes doing away with some of the ancillary licenses like the WMA stamp, while increasing fees on remaining resident licenses. A big-game hunting license would increase from $19 to $40; general hunting from $10 to $15; fishing $9 to $15; combo hunting and fishing $17 to $25. A Sportsman’s Combo would be the deal, increasing only from $55 to $60.

Non-resident license fees were recently increased, so there’s no proposal for an additional increase on out-of-state hunters or anglers.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Wildlife Federation plan would double resident license fees across the board, but would be contingent on legislators granting a state-tax exemption on hunting and fishing equipment for anyone with a Georgia hunting or fishing license. Sportsmen would save about 7 percent (depending on the sales tax in your county) on guns, ammo, fishing rods, outboard motors and a long, pre-set list of items. Under the sales-tax-exemption plan, if you buy a sportsman’s license, you’d need to spend about $850 in a year on tax-free purchases to cover the doubling of your license fee.

The initial comment period on WRD’s proposal ends on July 6. Send written comments to: License Restructure, Wildlife Resources Division, 2070 US Hwy 278 SE, Social Circle, GA 30025.

Also, discuss with other sportsmen at forum.gon.com.

For more on the efforts to raise license fees, visit georgiawildlife.com/aimforsuccess. Submit comments, and also take part in an online survey.

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