"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Legislature Is Giving Away Our Fishing Heritage
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

About now, if you are wondering what is transpiring in the legislature, my best guess is that this is anybody’s guess--regardless of anybody’s definition of what it is.
It is a thoroughly mixed conglomeration of dead bills, half-dead bills, live bills and amendments (we have yet to hear about) to bills that are alive for that purpose and no other.
However, barring unforeseen circumstances, we can assure senior citizens of Hoosierland that they will not have to make the supreme fiscal sacrifice by shelling out the exorbitant price of $2.75 for the right to fish for a year. It may be that our Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) will have to scrap a program or two that could improve the fishing for all because it will not have that million or so in federal funding House Bill (HB) 1048 would have provided for fisheries management. But what-the-heck, free is good. 

The concept is dead, unless someone tacks it onto some other unsuspecting legislator’s world saver somewhere, and sometime, before sine die. Tacking this concept onto some other legitimate bill would be snake-in-the grassish, no matter how one view’s the situation.

Frankly, although some seniors view this reporter as a mangy old dog for even (gasp) suggesting that this free permit business is not according to Hoyle, I like the idea of giving seniors and those who serve their county a free permit to hunt and fish wherever they may be.

However, I see Indiana government, and the political parties to which it adheres, as a nest of chinch bugs willing to give away anything if it will make the system look good.

What I am saying now, and have said since fighting (editorially and otherwise) for the repeal of the veterans’ free hunting/fishing license after World War II, is that your gracious state government is giving seniors the right to fish free and charging it off to the DFW. Your government is gifting away our fishing heritage and having a bad case of fumbleitis when reaching for its wallet to pay the tab.

I am plum in favor of a free license for seniors to fish--and hunt, too. 

But the way I see it, state government--or the DFW--should issue a free license to seniors. State government (by some hook or crook) should pay every penny of the $2.75 per license to the DFW. If the license is issued and paid for, the US Fish and Wildlife Service would kick in $7.21 for each license issued. Last year it was $5 and change, and next year it probably will rise again.

A study by Legislative Services brought estimates that 113,097 seniors now are fishing free. If state government gave the DFW $2.75 for each free fishing license issued, the initial windfall for fish management would be something like $360,000. In turn, if the DFW received $7.21 in federal funding for each of those licenses, the payoff would top $800,000. Combine the two, and you have a neat little package of $1.1 million per year for fisheries management programs.

And from whence does all of this federal funding come? From the pockets of Hoosier anglers--including seniors. That’s where.

For lo these many years--well over 30 of them--Hoosiers (like outdoorsmen of other states) have been paying an 11 percent excise tax on fish hooks, bobbers, fishing poles and even those little plastic containers of worms, I suppose.

The U.S. Congress passed the Pittman Robertson Federal Aid To Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937. It turned out to be a good way to get funding for the conservation of wildlife in our great county, so the companion act (Dingell-Johnson) for fisheries became law in 1951.

It has been a very good thing for programs of fish and wildlife conservation since. Indiana joined the wildlife program in 1940. As well as we can determine, we joined the fisheries programs in 1967, but it could have been before that.

The two laws established federal excise taxes on equipment for hunting, fishing and some other activities, and it has been very good even though some types of equipment are exempted. This means that while those who participate in some forms of outdoor recreation and use facilities established with such funding, they do not pay their freight.

All of this money derived from the excise tax is placed in a big pot which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Proceeds then are distributed to the game and fish agencies of the state in accordance to how many hunting/fishing licenses each state sells.

If you think this sounds like nickel and dime stuff, consider the fact that Indiana’s piece of the big pizza last year was $4.5 million for fisheries projects, $2.4 million for wildlife projects, and $3.4 million for hunter education.

The national distribution figures were $293 million for fishing, $152 million for wildlife, and $189 million for hunter education.

Indiana’s share of the big pizza could be greater, I am wont to point out, if all of those who fish and hunt bought some kind of token license. Veterans who have service-related disabilities pay $2.75 --should anyone else be exempted?

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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