MARQUETTE - Mirroring several statewide stakeholders, representatives of some Marquette County hunting and fishing groups support Gov. Rick Snyder's proposal to hike and restructure license fees.
The proposed license package - which is aimed at making improvements to habitat and facilities and hiring new conservation officers - would provide $18.3 million in new net revenue, pushing up the annual revenue total to $66.6 million from $48.2 million. Snyder's budget recommendation states Michigan ranks sixth in the country in the amount of money contributed to the state's economy by hunters and anglers, but ranks 19th in the number of conservation officers.
That notion is something some local hunters would like to change, including Bryan Reynolds, president of U.P. Whitetails of Marquette County.
An opening day brook trout catch with an annual Michigan license for the 2012 fishing season is shown above. Under a new license fee proposal, trout fishermen would see the annual all-species license fee drop from $28 to $25. (John Pepin photo)
"We have three COs sometimes to cover all of Marquette County, and a little more area than that, and that's almost an impossible job for two or three guys to do," Reynolds said. "We need more conservation officers to keep an eye on our natural resources because not everybody has scruples."
Reynolds said conservation officers "are there to make sure that there's a level playing field for everybody and everybody uses our resources wisely. And without them, I see it, people aren't as afraid to violate -whether that's taking extra fish when they're fishing or taking undersized fish, shooting a deer, shooting at night- because they're not as worried about getting caught when you've only got a few COs to cover huge territory."
Gary Modlin of Marquette, a past president of U.P. Whitetails of Marquette County, agreed.
FISHING LICENSES SOLD IN MICHIGAN IN 2012
Senior Resident Regular62,932
Resident All Species299,422
Senior Resident All Species71,223
Non-Resident All Species35,225
Resident/Non-Resident Young Angler All Species 3,201
HUNTING LICENSES SOLD IN MICHIGAN IN 2012
Resident Firearm Deer191,655
Resident Senior Firearm Deer36,733
Resident Combination Regular/Restricted Deer 278,176
Resident Archery Deer42,466
Resident Senior Archery Deer6,869
Non-Resident Firearm Deer12,407
Non-Resident Archery Deer3,317
Non-Resident Combination Regular/Restricted Deer2,153
Resident Bear 4,919
Resident Senior Bear 982
Non-Resident Bear 91
Non-Resident Bear No Kill Tag81
Resident Small Game189,032
Resident Senior Small Game36,093
Non-Resident Small Game5,609
Non-Resident 3-day Small Game4,641
Resident/Non-Resident Junior Small Game27,477
"If you just make some comparisons, if you expected two COs to cover the state of Rhode Island, that's what we're faced with in Marquette County," Modlin said. "And there, one would agree immediately that would be ridiculous to expect two COs to cover a whole state, but that's what we're asking. And with license fee increases, if we can hire some more COs, some more field biologists, the things we really need, the fee increase is the only way to get there."
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh said the license changes represent a proposal.
"I still think that the package will be perfected over time," Creagh said. "This was a package developed jointly with our stakeholders that the governor supported, introduced in his budget. Now as we work through the legislative process, I think that we'll have some other conversations."
Based on feedback so far, Creagh anticipates discussions on a few particular proposed increases.
Among the package highlights: Annual non-resident fishing licenses would go from $42 to $75. Daily fishing license fees for anyone would increase from $7 to $15. A base hunting license fee would cost $150 each year for non-residents. A regular annual resident fishing license fee would increase from $15 to $25. An annual resident base hunting license would be $10 -which includes small game hunting- and $20 for each tag for deer hunting.
"What I'm hearing is a couple things; one is that we need to go back and look at the non-resident because we really want to encourage people to come into the state," Creagh said.
Creagh said out-of-state hunters can help drive regional economies, but some critics have suggested $150 is "a little pricey to shoot a grouse."
"Two is, there should be some type of a comprehensive license just for ease and convenience. So can't I just buy - it kind of goes back to the old sportsman's license - I hunt, I fish, I trap, just tell me how much. ... So I think we'll continue to look at that with the Legislature."
Creagh said statewide representatives of bowhunters, turkey hunters, trout fishermen and steelheaders have supported the license proposal, along with the Safari Club.
"So we are working with the different stakeholders and conservation groups so that it needs to be the stakeholders seeing that if they invest their dollars that they get some type of return on their investment," Creagh said. "And it's as much about habitat improvement and maintaining our world class assets."
Creagh said the Michigan Natural Resources Commission supports "some type of revenue enhancement and restructuring." He said some groups, including off-road vehicle riders, have supported even higher increases for themselves if trail improvements are funded.
Jim Cantrill, president of the Fred Waara Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Marquette, said that "as a conservation organization devoted to the protection and restoration of coldwater fisheries in the Upper Peninsula," his organization "thinks it's high-time the anglers in Michigan accept a modest increase in the cost of fishing licenses."
Cantrill said there has not been any significant change in pricing since the mid-1990s and the need to protect our natural resources has never been greater.
"To the extent the extra funds would be earmarked solely for the use of increasing enforcement of existing regulations, improving fish habitat and better understanding the dynamic forces that are increasingly threatening fisheries in the State of Michigan, we believe Governor Snyder's proposal is aptly timed and well warranted," Cantrill said. "Further, we do not believe a modest increase in annual hunting and fishing licenses will significantly deter sporting activity in our state, especially since Michigan has one of the lowest fee structures in the entire country."
Reynolds said U.P. Whitetails of Marquette County has been in favor of a license fee increase for a while.
"We were pushing a few years ago for a license fee increase for more conservation officers and we also want the DNR - and the director knows this - that we don't want license fee increases to pay people to sit behind a desk somewhere. We want people out in the woods, out in the streams and knowing what's going on out there," Reynolds said. "Our wildlife division staff in the U.P. is at an all-time low and I'm sure fisheries is in no better condition than the wildlife division. So I mean, it's long overdue. We haven't had a license fee increase in 15 years. We are the cheapest place in the country to deer hunt right now. Nobody is even close to us. It's ridiculous what you pay for a deer license in this state."
Creagh said the DNR agrees with the governor's package proposal.
"But by saying that's what the department agrees with, it's a starting point, not an ending point." Creagh said. "After listening to our stakeholders, trying to simplify it, this is what the administration proposed as a beginning point to have that conversation. If the question is, 'Would we not support changes?' We would absolutely support changes. It's open for conversation and we need to be good listeners."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com