You’ll continue to be nickeled and dimed to hunt in Maine

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 You’ll continue to be nickeled and dimed to hunt in Maine

My second attempt to create an affordable comprehensive hunting license crashed at the legislature yesterday after the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed it. Although it has not yet been scheduled for a work session by the legislature’s IFW Committee, it is very unlikely to win the committee’s support.

DIF&W has opposed most bills this session, and many committee members seem to take the department’s testimony as gospel. It was a lot easier, years ago, to overcome DIF&W’s intransigence and opposition than it is today.

Here’s my testimony on LD 768, An Act to Establish a Comprehensive Hunting License, sponsored at my request by Representative Gary Hilliard.

 

      We have a single fishing license. And it’s time for a single hunting license.

      Let’s consider what fishing would be like if the licensing system had developed like the hunting license and permit system. We’d have a license for open water fishing and another license for ice fishing. Hunting licenses and permits are required for many different species. So we’d have a fishing permit for brook trout, another for landlocked salmon, a third for nonnative species including bass, maybe one for stocked fish too. Hunting licenses and permits are required for different types of weapons, so we’d have a fishing permit for fly fishing and another for spin casting. When we created fall fishing opportunities, we would have created a fall fishing permit, for sure.

      Do you think a complexity of fishing licenses and permits would have encouraged more people to fish in Maine? Perhaps the simplicity of the single fishing license is one reason twice as many people fish in Maine as hunt in our state.

 

Hunting Licenses and Permits: Well, let’s talk about hunting licenses and permits. At least, if you buy the big game hunting license, you are all set to hunt all of our big game animals: bear, moose, deer, coyotes, and turkeys. Right? Well, ahh, no. With the big game license, you can hunt bears, in all seasons. Right? No. A special bear hunting permit is required if you want to hunt bears before the firearms season on deer. Ok, but the big game license authorizes you to hunt moose. Right? No. You have to win the lottery, and then, if you do, you have to purchase a moose hunting permit. You can hunt coyotes with the big game license, unless you want to hunt them at night. That’s another permit.

      Ok, but most hunters buy the big game license to hunt deer, so the license allows you to do that, right? No. You can hunt deer in the regular firearms season, but if you want to hunt them in the bowhunting season, you have to buy another license. And if you want to hunt deer with a muzzleloader, that’s another permit.

      Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department considers wild turkeys to be big game animals. So, surely, the big game license allows you to hunt turkeys. Right? Wrong! So ok, if turkeys are a big game animal, why aren’t they covered by the big game hunting license?

      I can tell you why. Because we’re nickel and diming Maine hunters, to the point that most don’t and won’t participate in many of our hunting opportunities.

 

Comprehensive License: If this bill is enacted, for the price of 10 to 12 gallons of gas, you could hunt in Maine for an entire year, all game animals, all seasons, all bag limits. I’ll bet many hunters burn up that much gas on the first day of deer hunting, driving to their favorite spots. You certainly burn up more gas than that on a day of grouse hunting.

      LD 768 would expand the current resident and nonresident hunting licenses to include all hunting opportunities except: the Junior hunting license, the resident and nonresident apprentice licenses, the antlerless deer and special deer season, moose, pheasant, waterfowl, falconry, and migratory bird permits. About 60 hunting licenses and permits would be eliminated.

      I first heard this idea for a comprehensive hunting license from Bill Swan, DIF&W’s very capable Director of Licensing, who brought it to SAM’s Pickering Commission in 2011. I thought it was a great idea then, and for the last two legislative sessions, have proposed it in legislation.

 

Defeated: The bills were defeated for one simple reason. Bill Swan said that for DIF&W to be able to raise the same amount of revenue from hunters, the comprehensive hunting license for residents would have to cost $38 and $144 for nonresidents. Bill said that 69 percent of residents and 66 percent of nonresidents buy only the big game hunting license, with no additional hunting licenses or permits. So those residents pay just $25 for their current license while nonresidents pay $114. Concern over the response by some hunters to the higher cost was enough to kill the bill.

      There is no question some hunters will be unhappy with our comprehensive hunting license. But if you give up hunting to save $13, you don’t care much about hunting. For the cost of a pair of jeans, you could hunt all year in Maine. Maybe you’ve set your sights on that Magnum Hunting Stool at Cabela’s for $39.99. Give up a year of hunting, and it’s yours. Give up 10 years of hunting and you could buy the Primos Doublewide Blind – and use it for bird watching. And I don’t dare tell you how many years of hunting I’d have to give up to buy that new muzzleloader I’ve been eyeing!

      Obviously, the cost of the hunting license would be the smallest part of what we spend hunting in Maine. Plus, those of us who purchase multiple hunting licenses and permits will save a lot of money on agents’ fees. On behalf of SAM, I once successfully lobbied for a law that caps agent fees at $10 for those of us who purchase multiple licenses and permits in a single transaction. With the comprehensive license, you could buy all hunting opportunities for a single agent fee.

      You needn’t be concerned about the cost of this license for nonresidents. We’ll still be competitive, and most of our nonresident hunters now come here to hunt with friends and family. They won’t stop. Plus the cost of the license is the smallest part of the cost of a hunting trip to Maine. I pay a hunting permit fee of $100 each year for 5 days of pheasant hunting in North Dakota. My meals enroute to and from that state cost more than the license!

      What you should be more concerned about is the diminishing number of big game animals, especially deer, but now moose too. If we don’t have deer and moose, we won’t have deer and moose hunters, no matter what the cost of their hunting licenses.

      Some IFW Committee members last session were not only concerned about the cost of the comprehensive license, but also Bill Swan’s prediction that 10 percent of Maine’s hunters would give up hunting. I think that is on the high side, but I also know that every time DIF&W’s license fees increased in the past, sales decreased – for a short period of time. Eventually sales returned to the same and higher levels.

      Must every good idea be lost over money? I think this is simply a matter of how the issue is presented. $38 is a bargain for a season of deer hunting – even without all the other hunting opportunities that will be included with the new comprehensive license. And there are two other factors that should be considered.

      First, we know that the hunting population is steadily declining. Our challenge is to get those who are hunting to try new hunting opportunities. That’s especially important for our hunting economy. The future of hunting will not be defined by a big increase in the number of hunters. It will be defined by a lot more hunting by those who hunt. I am absolutely certain that, if opportunities like turkey hunting were included in the hunting license, more hunters would give turkey hunting a try.

      This is exactly what happened to me when I purchased the Superpack license. I got out duck hunting one day – because it was included in my license. I went rabbit hunting once too, for the first time since I was a kid. Since I stopped buying the Superpack license, I have done neither.

      The Superpack license was my friend Harry Vanderweide’s idea, and Harry and I convinced DIF&W to create it, but they got greedy and decided to make a lot of money, pricing it at $200. That has limited the number of hunters and anglers who purchase it.

      There are also great benefits in this proposal for DIF&W and its licensing agents across the state. When the department calculates its costs from this proposal, it ought to also calculate its savings. Eliminating 60 or more licenses and permits simplifies the Moses online system and reduces its cost. Every line in the Moses system costs money. And it will be a whole lot easier for agents to sell hunting licenses if there is only one license to sell.

 

DIF&W Poll:   At the request of the IFW committee, Bill Swan emailed 100,000 hunters a survey about the comprehensive license proposal. A good 6 percent response was achieved, with slightly more than 6,000 hunters answering the 7 question survey.

      A very strong 68 percent favored the comprehensive all-inclusive hunting license priced at $38. A less comprehensive proposal, offering the current $25 big game license and the option of a package of hunting permits for an additional $6, won the support of only 39 percent of respondents.

      The other survey questions sought information on what licenses and permits respondents currently purchased to hunt in Maine and how often they purchased them. Most interesting was the fact that 33 percent usually purchased multiple hunting permits, in addition to the basic license, each year. Legislators on the IFW committee who got out and talked to hunters in their districts about this proposal reported that they found strong support for it.

 

Conclusion:  I know that many good ideas take a long time to reach enactment at the legislature. It took us 10 years to win approval for our sportsmen’s license plate. But I am certain that someday we will have a comprehensive hunting license to match our comprehensive fishing license. Maybe this year?

 

 

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