When sportsmen go to purchase hunting and fishing licenses next season, most will find that fees have increased from this year's.
That's because state legislatures passed a bill this week, as part of the state budget, that increases fees across the board in an attempt to generate more revenue for the state Conservancy Fund.
The Conservation Fund is the primary funding source for the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. It pays the salaries for state environmental conservation officers, funds fishing and hunting programs, wildlife health monitoring studies and stream and lake surveys, among other things.
In January, Gov. David Paterson requested that DEC work with sportsmen's groups to develop a fee structure that would ensure the continuation of these programs.
The increases will effect about three dozen permits and licenses. Annual fishing licenses will jump from $19 to $29, while lifetime fishing licenses for people under age 69 will go from $350 to $460. Annual small- and big-game hunting licenses will increase from $19 to $29, while the lifetime equivalent goes from $350 to $535. Non residential licenses also increased.
The bill also created an annual marine fishing license of $10, and a lifetime for $150, for salt-water fishermen.
The one-day fishing license would drop from $15 to $5.
The changes take effect on Oct. 1, the start of the sportsmen's calendar year. The change in fees is the first since 2002.
Hunting and fishing advocates expect these increases will provide the necessary funding for programs for about two to three years, then additional sources will have to be sought. One idea for a future revenue source that has been kicked around is a state excise tax on sporting goods. The tax would be .02 percent of the purchase.
The current increases come in lieu of some other ideas proposed to shore up the Conservation Fund's budget, including eliminating the state's only pheasant farm outside of Ithaca and the creation of a $10 trout and salmon stamp.
Despite the across the board increases, trout and fishing advocates generally supported the bill.
"If we didn't do this we'd be losing two or three fish hatcheries and the pheasant program," said Bob Brown, the legislative representative of the Franklin County Federation of Fish and Game Clubs.
Brown said that when faced with the alternatives, about 80 percent of fish and game clubs throughout the state supported the increases as a means of generating revenue.
"There's no question we had to have this new license fee structure," Brown said. "It's well thought out. Everyone is affected the same across the board."
The changes in license fees were proposed by the Conservation Fund Advisory Board and later modified slightly by the DEC and governor's office.
Another change to licenses as a result of this bill was that town clerks will no longer be required to distribute hunting and fishing licenses. This could benefit license sales because it could allow some additional sporting goods stores to distribute the licenses, if some town clerks choose not to be distributors. Currently, there is a cap on the number of license distributors.
"This will hopefully increase our profits because we have viable retail outlets that are seeking permission to issue hunting and fishing licenses," said CFAB Region 5 representative Jason Kemper.
But despite the projected increases in revenue, fishing and hunting advocacy representatives know that the fight to find funding for sportsmen's programs in the state is not over.
"This fix will last two-and-a-half to three to three-and-a-half years at most," Brown said. "This is basically plugging the gap until we can make a more permanent fix."