Fish & Boat struggles for answers
By Bob Frye
Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks is calling in its chips.
It's ending a program that, since 1971, has provided residents between the ages of 65 and 74 with free hunting and fishing licenses. Economics is the issue. Kansas officials have said the program was costing the state up to $1.5 million annually.
Their counterparts at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission can relate.
Soon, officials have said, the amount of money generated by fishing license sales will fall short of covering expenses. To compensate, it's already announced plans to close two hatcheries by December 2014, even at the expense of losing 700,000 trout, or more than 20 percent of the total stocked each year.
It's quite possible more cuts in goods and services could be coming, said executive director John Arway.
He told members of the commission's board that when he presents the agency's annual report to the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee this month, the emphasis will be on one thing: the need for funding. That will be the agency's top priority with the legislature moving forward, he added.
“You can't squeeze more juice from an orange than an orange can produce,” he said.
As in Kansas, the oldest part of the commission's constituency might be among the first to feel the pinch.
Currently, upon reaching age 65, Pennsylvania anglers can buy a lifetime fishing license for $51.70. If they buy a trout stamp or combination trout and Lake Erie stamp even once, they can fish anywhere in the state for any species for the rest of their lifetime at no additional cost.
No one knows just how many lifetime license holders there are, but it's possible they represent “the largest segment of our license buyers,” said Tim Schaeffer, director of policy and planning for the commission. Their numbers are likely growing, too, he said, given that Pennsylvania is aging and people are living longer.
That's problematic, he said, given that those people aren't paying fees, but still expect trout to be stocked, boat ramps to be maintained and conservation officers to be in the field.
“It's becoming more and more of a challenge for us to come up with the revenue to fund the services that are being offered for that $50 so they can fish for a lifetime,” Schaeffer said.
One possible solution mentioned at the commission's recent board meeting was to require future senior lifetime license buyers to buy a trout or Lake Erie stamp every year.
“Under one scenario, in which current lifetime holders would be grandfathered and we would require the stamp moving forward, we estimate that requiring lifetime license buyers to purchase an annual trout stamp could generate approximately $75,000 to $150,000 annually,” said spokesman Rick Levis.
The commission is looking for other revenue sources, too. Arway has had talks with lawmakers about linking the eligibility for a lifetime license to the age at which a person can begin to collect Social Security. He's also asking lawmakers to study the idea of charging corporations for taking water from public sources.
The commission's boating advisory board will discuss this week the idea of requiring canoe and kayak owners to register their boats. Non-powered boats are the fastest-growing segment of the boating industry, “but unless they register their boats voluntarily, or perhaps buy a launch permit, we're capturing no revenue from that,” Schaeffer said.
However it happens, the commission needs to find more money, and it's incumbent upon anglers and boaters to get involved and push lawmakers to provide it, Arway added.
“It's not just us; our constituency needs to speak out,” Arway said. “That's the message we need to get out there. I really think it's going to resonate. But if it doesn't, we have to do what we have to do.”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.
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