Saturday, July 1, 2017

ADDED ODNR/Non-residents to feel the bite of increased Ohio hunt and fish license fee


The Ohio General Assembly and the Kasich Administration are passing the buck to the next class of legislators and a new governor to determine whether the state’s resident hunters and anglers will pay more for their respective licenses and permits.

For now the current crop of politicians made it their duty to increase a number of fees charged to non-resident hunters and anglers. Included in this constituency segment – intentionally or otherwise – are non-resident youth hunters.

Under the just passed two-year General Operating Budget, non-resident anglers will pay more to catch Lake Erie walleye while non-resident hunters will pay more to hunt deer, turkeys and everything else. These fee increases will begin to tangle with non-resident wallets beginning in 2018 as this year’s fees are all ready established.

Spelled out in the just-approved budget is that a non-resident hunter will pay $124 this year for the basic general hunting license, $140.50 in 2018, $157 in 2019, and $174 beginning in 2020. All of these figures do not include the requisite issuing fee.

For a single deer tag a non-resident will pay $24 this year and rising to $74 by 2020.

In order to hunt wild turkeys a non-resident now pays $23 for either a spring or a fall permit. Beginning in 2018 that charge will rise to $29. Again, minus the obligatory issuing fees that are tacked on to each issued permit.

Noteworthy is the elimination of the popular non-resident youth hunting licenses and any associated reduced-cost deer and turkey tags. These less expensive permits were available for youths age 17 and under but beginning in 2018 non-resident kid hunters will have to begin paying what their elders are required to fork over, the new law reads. Ohio sells about 3,100 licenses.

However, in a bow to military service personnel, the new law does permit an individual who is either on leave or furlough – and as long as that individual is likewise on active duty – to buy a deer or turkey hunting permit at the Ohio resident rate. This will be true whether that individual is a resident or not of Ohio.

As for anglers the bite out of the purse will not be quite so severe. For a seasonal license a non-resident now pays $39 (excluding issuing fee); a charge that will climb to $49 by 2020; again, incrementally.

“That’s still a bargain,” said Rob Sexton, spokesman for the Columbus-based Sportsman’s Alliance.

The Alliance was the spear point for the efforts in Ohio to increase license fees charged to both residents as well as non-residents.

In a pitched political battle with leaders of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Alliance and a confederation of some 41 state and national sportsmen and conservation groups intensely lobbied for the fee increases. The matter began in the Ohio House and rolled over to the state Senate where each side on the issue voiced reservations regarding their opponent’s arguments.

Especially bitter in the eyes of the Alliance was the Natural Resources Department’s heel-digging resistance to resident fee increases. And the pro-increase forces had to shepherd their prospective and proposed fee recommendations against some politicians who wanted even greater increases to non-resident fees.

Meanwhile, some other elected officials went so far as to try and exempt land-owning non-residents from even needing to buy licenses if pursuing game on their own property.

“We greatly improved on the state Senate version, which in some cases was seeking increases that were way too high, and the Ohio House version which included fees that were way too low,” Sexton said. “We basically got everything we wanted.”

Everything, that is, except for the brass ring in the form of license fee increases charged to resident hunters and to a lesser degree, resident anglers.

Under the new arrangement the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Wildlife Fund should see an influx of $40 million to $50 million in additional revenue over the next 10 years. However, that range is still a fraction of what is necessary in order to keep the Wildlife Division solvent, or about $220 million over the same period, says Sexton.


Keeping a close eye on how the increases will impact sales of non-resident license products is likewise the goal of the Natural Resources Department, says agency spokesman, Matt Eiselstein
“We supported adjusting non-resident fees in order to bring them in line with other states,” said Eiselstein. “(While) we didn't work directly on this amendment, but we are happy to review it and monitor its impact on non-resident participation.”

Asked also how many non-resident hunters likely will avoid Ohio when the rate increases fully hit home, Sexton said that an economist the Alliance hired to research the question estimated that figure to be about five percent.

“But there’s no real way to say for certain,” Sexton said. “The thing is, Ohio will now be in the ‘sweet spot’ as far as what other top-producing deer-hunting states charge non-residents. It is still a reasonable figure.”

As for the future, Sexton said the Alliance has begun the groundwork of preparing for seeking resident hunting and fishing license fee increases in 2019. That is when the state will take up the next two-year Operating Budget – and Ohio will have a new governor and a new state legislature make up.

After all, says Sexton, with an expected 10-year shortfall approaching $220 million no way can such a deficit “be laid solely on the backs of non-residents, particularly non-resident hunters.”

“There will be a discussion with the next governor, and we’ll shortly begin a dialogue with the various gubernatorial candidates from both parties,” Sexton said. “We’ll also be talking about a whole range of other issues, too, like the status of AEP land; so, yes, a lot of work remains for us to do over the next couple of years.”

Even so, says Sexton, he “feels pretty good” about the accomplishments the Alliance and its cohorts were able to achieve.

“Yes, especially considering that the Natural Resources director originally said that the Wildlife Division didn’t even need any additional money,” Sexton said.

 - Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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