LANSING - Recently proposed increases to state hunting and fishing fees could disproportionately hurts seniors, one legislator said, even for some who haven't hunted or fished for years.
State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, said the array of possible changes to hunting and fishing licenses - including senior deer hunting licenses increasing from $6 to $8 on top of a $4 base fee - isn't fair to his older constituents.
"I know everything is on the table here, but I'd hate to see retirees pay more for their licenses," Dianda said. "I know there are people who are buying licenses that don't go hunting any more, but still want to support the Department of Natural Resources."
Senior hunters and fishermen, according to a state representative from the Copper Country, will be disproportionately hurt if newly-proposed hunting and fishing fees are approved. (Journal file photos)
Dianda said some seniors in his district buy licenses to support the DNR so younger people can enjoy the amenities it provides.
AARP Michigan communication director Mark Hornbeck said though the organization hasn't looked into the specifics of the proposal, opposes higher expenses for senior citizens.
"The whole ball of wax has us gravely concerned for seniors on fixed income," Hornbeck said.
The proposal from Gov. Rick Snyder calls for the state to reduce the number of available types of licenses from 277 to 31, while increasing prices on some hunting and fishing licenses. It would result in an estimated $11.8 million more in 2014 and $18 million in 2015.
Under the proposal, seniors still would pay less than younger hunters and anglers for some licenses, but Dianda said any extra fees could be burdensome on retirees. "The way things are going, the way the economy is, we already have the cost of living increasing and it's tough for those on fixed incomes."
Terry Walsh, president of the Michigan Charter Boat Association, said the proposed increase for the one-day license from $7 to $15 for people at least 17 years old would adversely impact charter boats, particularly around the Saginaw Bay where much the business comes from families taking day trips.
Walsh, who owns Termar Charters near Au Gres, said he supports the DNR upping its prices to be competitive with other states, but such a steep increase for the 24-hour license likely will deter families from taking such trips.
"Most of my charters during the summer are families - either families from in state or out of state visiting - and they bring a lot of kids," Walsh said. "If dad has to pay the full fee not just for the license but the gas and all the food and the lodging, and now he's looking at an additional $15 for each person - that's out of line. That simply should not be."
DNR public information officer Ed Golder said the state is overdue for an increase in rates, something it hasn't seen since 1996 because of difficult economic times during the past decade.
The additional funds would go toward hiring 41 conservation officers.
"The hope is that at the end of this, we have more feet in the forest, more waders in the water and more eyes in the field from people that care about our environment," Golder said.
The last time the DNR called for a raise in rates on hunting and fishing licenses was in 2006, but the bill died in the Legislature.
Drew YoungeDyke, grassroots manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), said a problem with the last proposed increase was that it wouldn't be used for its originally expressed purpose.
MUCC is analyzing the most recent proposal, YoungeDyke said.
"We recognize the need for additional funding," he said. "This could be a positive proposal, but we just want to make sure the funding is being used for the right purposes."
Under the governors plan, out-of-staters would bear the brunt of the increases, with a new base fee of $150 for hunters and a $33 increase for all-species fishing licenses. Michigan residents would pay a $10 base fee for hunting.
The DNR predicts a 7 percent decline in sales if the increases take effect.
Golder said the changes also would provide opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to save money as small game, waterfowl and migratory bird hunting would be included in the base fee.
"We expect that there will be some dropoff for certain licenses because of what are in some cases pretty modest increases," he said. "But we also think there might be some increases because there are some things that are less expensive."