"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Hunting/Fishing License Fee Increase Proposal Tabled
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

An interesting thing occurred in the ivory-tower office of your Division of Fish and Wildlife last week. It is more likely that this turn of events took place in the equally ivory-towered office of your Department of Natural Resources, but this is not really important because for all practical purposes they are one and the same:

"All for one and one for all"  . . . and all for the most important politician.

If you read this column occasionally, you may recall that the October 20 number discussed the fact the DFW/DNR would be seeking a modest hike in hunting/fishing license fees almost before the last gigantic hike in fees was realizing any additional funding.

That column indicated--if it didn't flat out say it--that this reporter was much in favor of the earlier gigantic fee hikes, and the current proposed modest hikes. As you may have guessed, this reporter has long believed that "there is no such thing as a free lunch" in the business of managing natural and wildlife resources. If we want to hunt and fish, we will have to pay our freight.

This column also believes that once we have bought our ticket, we need to have watchdogs to make sure our funding is used wisely and for the purposes intended.

However, last week a loud "EUREKA" reverberated off the walls of the hallowed DFW offices, and in the next breath our wildlife agency was telling us they didn't really need that extra funding that the modest fee hikes would put in the larder.

That e-mail message--though not verbatim--went to member of a fish and wildlife advisory group, with a one-sentence rationalization that establishing a point-of-sale (computerized) license setup was less expensive than anticipated. This presumably means that they will not need the extra funding a modest increase ($2 across the board) would bring in--at least not for now.

It is interesting that the point-of-sale issue was not mentioned when DFW brass was trying to justify those proposed modest fee hikes. So the DFW/DNR will not pursue that modest increase in hunting/fishing license fees.

In that October 20 column, we did not tell all, probably at the time because it did not seem important and would have lengthened the column. Some newspapers do not lengthy columns. They eat up lots of space.

What I didn't tell you was that Governor Frank O'Bannon had put his stamp of approval on the DFW/DNR plan to go for more money.

Nor did I write in that column that on (or about) October 1 I received a call from a department head of the DFW inviting me (as an outdoor writer) to an October 8 meeting in offices of the DFW. Purpose of the meeting, the caller said, was to learn the opinions of outdoor writers on increases in hunting/fishing license fees.

I informed the DFW caller that I would be on North Carolina's Outer Banks on October 8 and would not be able to attend the meeting. However, I told the caller that while I could not attend the meeting, he had my proxy to voice whole-hearted support of the issue.

Soon after my return from my Outer Banks vacation--about October 12--I called the DFW representative who had invited me to the meeting to inquire how my fellow outdoors scribes had responded.

"Oh," I was told, the DFW felt it was proceeding too fast on license fee hikes and decided not to have the meeting . . . the agency had decided to take another look at the fiscal problems.

But I was told by several DFW representatives that the move to increase license fees still was in the works and the plan was outlined in my October 20 column.

At this point, the vast majority of conservationists and sportsmen of the state do not know of this strange (180-degree) turn of events. But when the word is out, these same conservationists and sportsmen will be wondering if Governor Joe Kernan has quietly decided to try his luck in the upcoming gubernatorial election, and does not care to have a license-fee hike millstone for a necklace.

This reporter telephoned Governor Kernan's office Monday to ask if his administration would support modest hikes in hunting/fishing license fees. The closest we came to getting an answer was a voice-mail message, which asked me to leave a message. I did just that, but have heard nothing further. 

Here's the way that October 20 column summed up the situation:

"Before the last round of fee hikes, hunting/fishing license fees had not been increased for 14 years because of political implications--especially in the last 10 to 15 years. The "no new taxes" decrees of the past few administrations would not allow the legislature an opportunity to even think about increasing hunting/fishing license fees. A close look at recent history leaves little room for doubt that political bumbling painted us into this fiscal corner. 

"Through much of this period fees were the baby of the Indiana General Assembly. But in its 2001 session, the legislature adopted a one-sentence law which gave the commission (DNR Commission) authority to set hunting/fishing/trapping fees. That led to the last round of fee hikes which became effective on January 1, 2002. That round of fee hikes boosted annual revenue from license fees about $2-million per year (from about $13-million to about $15-million)."

All columns, essays, and photos 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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