BOZEMAN — Increasing license fees is a priority for the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department in the upcoming legislative session, agency Director Jeff Hagener said.
On Monday night, legislators, administrators and sportsmen met to discuss the agency’s needs and how they might be affected by bills already being drafted.
FWP is reaching the end of a 10-year budget cycle and will soon be in the red without new authorization for fees. But this time, it would extend for only four years.
FWP depends mostly on money from hunting and fishing license fees. A third of its budget comes from two federal programs that use taxes from guns, ammunition and fishing gear and gas. But FWP can’t use those programs if it can’t provide matching funds.
An FWP advisory committee worked eight months to develop changes that will streamline the number of licenses available and how they’re priced.
An $8 charge was added to resident hunting licenses and $6 to fishing licenses.
However, an interim legislative committee dropped the $6 increase to $3 to make the revenue match the projected expenditures for the four years, leaving no room for added costs.
Even so, Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Bozeman, said the package might not go through as proposed, based on what he was hearing from other Republicans.
“Anytime you increase fees, and change what legislators have done prior to when we were there, they have ownership in what was done. So some of them are going to be reluctant to change those,” Flynn told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Another bill that might have similar trouble is the repeal of the Native Montana Nonresident License in favor of the Coming Home to Hunt license.
Both applied to nonresidents, but the Native Montana license came later and at half the price. People stopped buying the Coming Home to Hunt license, which provided funds for acquiring access.
The new Coming Home to Hunt license would cost half the nonresident price.
A few of FWP’s other proposals probably won’t be as difficult to pass.
One bill would install a dock for handicapped access on Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake. Another bill would allow the department to revoke hunting licenses for 24 months if someone is caught applying for a duplicate license after they’ve already taken game with the original license.
One proposal would prohibit the statewide transport of live fish to combat aquatic invasive species.
Flynn, who will chair the House FWP committee, said he had bills to improve the block management program, which reimburses landowners for wear-and-tear if they let public hunters use their land.
That includes proposing an optional $25 block management stamp.
“I’ve heard the only way it will go through is if it’s opt-in or opt-out. It gives everyone the opportunity and it does put hunter ownership into block management,” Flynn said.