HELENA — A legislative council on Thursday cut emergency funding from a draft bill proposing increases to several hunting and fishing license fees and standardizing discounted licenses before sending the bill out for public comment.
The Environmental Quality Council voted to approve recommendations of the governor-appointed Fish and Wildlife Licensing and Funding Advisory Council, but only after slashing $500,000 recommended for an emergency contingency fund. The adopted cuts come 70 percent from resident and 30 percent from nonresident fishing license revenue. The draft bill will now go out for public comment before the EQC takes it up again at its September meeting.
The LFAC met for nine months to propose revenue increases to the department. Its recommendations include increasing license fees, establishing a new base hunting license, increasing non-resident refunds to 95 percent and standardizing discount licenses at half price.
The LFAC then sent its recommendations to the EQC for further consideration. House Bill 609, signed last year, requested the EQC also study state hunting and fishing license laws and fees.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimated it needs an additional $5.75 million in license revenue each year to maintain current levels of management. The agency has already made cuts of $1.24 million.
The LFAC’s recommendations would generate an estimated $6.13 million each year — nearly $400,000 more than FWP estimates it needs. The LFAC noted the importance of an emergency contingency fund in case of unforeseen mandates or expenditures.
Several members of the EQC took issue with the contingency funding and voted unanimously to send the bill out for comment minus $500,000.
The EQC also voted to reject the recommendation to replace 10-day fishing licenses with seven-day licenses, voting to keep it at 10 days.
Any changes to license fees or structures would only come if passed by the next Legislature and signed by the governor. The EQC advises the Legislature and state agencies on natural resources legislation and programs.
“It’s been a good process,” said Ron Aasheim, FWP administrator. “We knew from previous meetings the EQC has some concerns about the contingency funding, but they did approve something to go to the public. It’s not a surprise.”
FWP held nine public meetings around the state to discuss the LFAC’s recommendations, receiving 86 comments. A majority of commenters supported the recommendations, according to an agency report.
A “small minority” opposed the council’s recommendations, with some suggesting FWP cut expenditures, the report said.
“When people heard the amount of the increase, at that point it became a no-brainer to show their support,” said FWP responsive management supervisor Charlie Sperry, referring to the public comments.
Under changes endorsed by both councils, a season-long resident fishing license would rise from $18 to $24 while a non-resident license would rise from $60 to $86. Other recommendations include standardizing discounted hunting licenses at 50 percent of full price, increasing the eligibility age for senior licenses from 62 to 67 and the creation of a new $10 resident and $15 nonresident base hunting license.
The Montana Wildlife Federation supports the increases given FWP’s broad demands to manage all wildlife, said outreach director Nick Gevock.
“At the end of the day, an extra $8 for the average fisherman makes sense to manage Montana’s world-class hunting and fishing,” he said.