The cost of shooting a deer in Michigan would double next year, under Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed 2014 budget, and more conservation officers would patrol the state’s woods and waterways.
Released Thursday, Snyder’s budget calls for $354.3 million for the Department of Natural Resources, which would allow the agency to hire 41 more conservation officers, improve more fish habitat, enhance wildlife management activities, expand some state game areas and improve trails.
“Fundamentally, the budget is predicated on the role that natural resources play in the long-term recovery of Michigan,” DNR Director Keith Creagh said. “Our stakeholders (hunting and fishing groups) have said that we need some additional investment — in fisheries, wildlife and habitat.”
A cornerstone of the 2014 DNR budget is a plan to overhaul fishing and hunting license fees. The proposal, which calls for doubling the cost of a firearm deer license, but lowering the cost of an all-species fishing license, would generate $18 million annually, DNR officials said.
The DNR currently generates about $50 million annually from fishing and hunting license sales, agency officials said.
The license fee increases are overdue, said Erin McDonough, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. MUCC is the state’s largest conservation group.
“There’s no denying that when you compare our fees to other states, we are low,” McDonough said. “But any fee increase has to come with better transparency, and the department has to ensure that the return on this investment supports the kind of work that sportsmen and sportswomen want to see.”
McDonough said MUCC would not take a formal stance on the license fee package until it reviews all of the details.
Deep cuts in the DNR budget since 2000 — coupled with stagnant license fees and rising inflation — have reduced the DNR’s spending power by 47 percent and hampered its ability to properly manage natural resources, agency officials said.
The license fees proposed for 2014 would still keep the cost of Michigan’s hunting and fishing licenses below what most surrounding states charge, according to data from other states.
Under the proposal, the cost of a firearm deer license would increase from $15 to $30 for residents (which includes a $10 base fee for all hunting licenses), and go from $138 to $170 for nonresidents. Senior citizens would pay $12 for deer license under the plan, double the current fee of $6.
Every hunter would be required to pay $10 for a basic hunting license, and additional fees for different species of birds and mammals. Aside from deer, the license fees would remain the same for most other fur-bearing animals and birds.
All Michigan anglers would pay $25 for an all-species fishing license under the proposed DNR budget, down from the current $28 fee. The basic fishing license, which currently costs $15 and provides a lower cost alternative for anglers not interested in catching trout or salmon, would be replaced by the $25 all-species license.
Senior citizen fishing licenses would cost $10 under the proposed DNR budget, down from the current fee of $11.20.
Michigan’s last increase in hunting and fishing license fees was approved in 1996. A 2006 proposal to raise the fees died in the Legislature.
Creagh said revenue from the proposed license fee increases would be used to put more biologists in the field and support more habitat restoration. He added it won’t fund administrative costs or “buy more computers.”
Bryan Burroughs, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said persistent cuts in the DNR budget have decimated important research programs and jeopardized some fisheries.
“One of the things we’re seeing is a lack of expertise (among DNR officials) in any one type of fishery,” Burroughs said. “I would hope that if the department gets more money, it would change that.”
Jeff Alexander is owner of J. Alexander Communications LLC and the author of "Pandora's Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway." A former staff writer for the Muskegon Chronicle, Alexander writes a blog on the Great Lakes at http://allthingsgreatlakes.wordpress.com/.