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24
Posted on Fri, Sep. 03, 2004

Legislators want hunting, fishing license fees reconsidered

CHET BROKAW

Associated Press


PIERRE, S.D. - The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission must take another look at its recent decision to increase hunting and fishing license fees, a South Dakota Legislature committee decided Friday.

Sen. Eric Bogue, R-Faith, said he could not endorse a fee increase that would raise an estimated $2.3 million in extra revenue when the state Wildlife Division holds a budget reserve of $7 million or so.

The Legislature's Rules Review Committee ordered the commission to reconsider the license fee increases it approved a month ago.

Doug Hansen, director of the Wildlife Division, said the agency needs a budget cushion because it never knows when a harsh winter will decimate the pheasant population. A steep drop in pheasant numbers leads to a sharp drop in revenue as fewer licenses are purchased, particularly by out-of-state hunters who provide about a third of the division's fee revenue, he said.

Hansen told the legislative panel that the Game, Fish and Parks Commission requested that wildlife officials propose increases in license fees more frequently than in the past. That will allow smaller increases, avoiding the large boosts that are needed if officials wait too long to change fees, he said.

The extra fee revenue would be used to lease more land for public hunting, upgrade fish hatcheries and support the Wildlife Division's other operations, Hansen said.

"It wasn't the intent with the increases to build our cash balances," Hansen told the legislative panel.

The legislative committee's action could cause problems in printing new licenses for 2005, when the new fees were to take effect, Hansen said. The 2005 licenses are supposed to go on sale Dec. 15, but officials may not know for some time what price should be printed on those licenses, he said.

Bogue said the Game, Fish and Parks Commission could have avoided any possible problem in printing licenses by dealing with the proposed fee increases earlier in the year.

The fee increases, approved by the commission in early August, would be the first boosts in hunting and fishing license fees since 1997.

The fee increases covered a wide range of fishing and hunting licenses. The resident annual fishing license would increase from $21 to $25, and the special senior citizen fishing license would go from $5 to $10. The nonresident annual fishing license would rise by $1 to $60.

The resident annual small-game hunting license would go from $22 to $24. The nonresident small-game hunting license would rise from the current $95 to $105.

The Game, Fish and Parks Commission will now have to decide how to respond to the legislative panel's rejection of the fee increases. The commission might simply approve the fee increases again and submit them for approval by the Rules Review Committee along with a more detailed explanation of the need for reserve funds, officials said.

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