Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are once again preparing to push a plan to raise hunting and fishing fees, despite previous resistance from state lawmakers who have refused to advance similar proposals.
Director Virgil Moore announced earlier this week that his department has had to cut services because of a drop in funding. The agency relies on revenue from licenses, tags and permits to cover operational costs and does not receive general state tax dollars. However, those fees haven't increased in roughly 12 years.
Moore says he plans on asking lawmakers to approve raising resident fees in 2018. As part of the plan, a person can lock in the current price by buying a license in 2017 and each subsequent year — which would allow them to avoid the fee hike.
If approved by the Idaho Legislature, the plan would increase fees by $1 to $6. For example, this would bump hunting licenses from $12.75 to $15.75, while an elk tag would jump from $30.75 to $36.75. The plan is expected to raise $1 million annually.
"The level of services Fish and Game provides and our capacity to manage are both decreasing because of increased costs," Moore said in a letter sent to sportsmen. "As a result, we are stocking fewer trout and conducting fewer game and fish population surveys."
However, similar proposals have stalled in the Statehouse since the agency first pitched to lawmakers in 2014, with lawmakers disagreeing over the best method for the department to increase revenue.
That's because the Legislature in 2012 gave authority to the Fish and Game Commission — which supervises the department — to auction up to 12 "Governor's Wildlife Partnership" big-game tags, including three each for deer, elk and pronghorn and one each for bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat.
Yet to the chagrin of many lawmakers, the commission has declined to offer any tag for auction except for bighorn sheep, which has been auctioned annually since 1988. That tag sold for $90,000 in January.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, attempted to force the commission into auctioning the tags with a legislative proposal introduced this year, but that attempt died without a hearing.
Months later, Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter declined to reappoint two members of the Fish and Game commission. Sportsmen and commissioners argued that the commission was being punished for not bending to the will of lawmakers. An Idaho wildlife group published emails between a handful of lawmakers unhappy with the Idaho Fish and Game Commission's hard stance to not auction tags to boost revenue.
To help ease the concerns of lawmakers, the department has increased its budget to address damage caused on private land by wildlife and expanded the state's landowner appreciation program to allow more hunting tags to be awarded to landowners. The program allows landowners with at least 640 acres in a hunting unit to participate in a separate drawing for tags.
Bair, who chairs the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, said he had not seen the department's latest revenue boost proposal and could not comment.
"The only thing I can say about it is that we'll take a look at it and make decisions at that time," Bair said.