License fee plans raise revenue, as well as concerns

Judging by the turnout at the most recent Arizona Game and Fish Commission meeting here in Kingman, it looks like the department and commission are going to get a lot of feedback when it comes to ideas about the license and tag fee proposals.

When I attended the commission meeting that was held in Kingman a few weeks ago, the commission was briefed for the first time about the development of the new hunting and fishing license structures and fees as authorized by Senate Bill 1223.

I thought then that some of the concepts the department had put out sounded good, while some - well, let's just say, those didn't sound that good.

And at the public meeting held at the region office, the 17 or so sportsmen and women in the audience had a lot to say about the concepts, which were presented by department employees Tony Guiles and Brian Wakeling.

There haven't been any license or tag increases since 2007.

Since that time the department, which is the only state agency that doesn't receive general tax dollars, has seen huge increases in operating expenses, such as fish stocking and conducting aerial game surveys.

So the department has formulated some ideas on restructuring license and tag fees, and at this point it is asking for the public's comments on them.

Here is a synopsis of some of them.

The department is going to create a combination license for non-residents who purchase a hunting license. Currently non-residents have the option of buying a hunting and/or a fishing license. They could buy a combo hunting/fishing license too, but they sell very few of those.

Now, when a non-resident buys a hunting license, he or she automatically gets a fishing license too. The cost will be $160, up from $151.50.

Juniors will be defined as youth ages 10 through 17 and they will get a combo hunting/fishing license for $5 a year.

Resident combination licenses will increase by $3, to $57, but will include hunting for small and big game, trout stamp, two-pole stamp, urban fishing, and California and Nevada special use stamps. The license will be valid 365 days from the date of purchase.

When you consider all that you get in that package, it looks like a real bargain.

Tag fees brought up the most feedback from the audience.

For residents, antelope tags will go up to $90, from $77.50. Bighorn sheep tags will go to $300, up from $265.

Turkey tags will increase $6, to $25, while javelina tags will be $25, up from $21.25.

Deer tags will go up for residents to $45 except for tags for deer north of the Colorado River and late season tags. Those would be designated as "premium" deer tags and would cost $100.

I have an issue with that. Did you know that on the early Kaibab deer hunt (12A West early) that 80 percent of the deer taken are between 1-3 years old? That means spikes; fork horns and small three and four points make up a very large percentage of the harvest.

Doesn't sound like a "premium" hunt to me.

Then there is elk.

Current resident tag fees are $114. Under the new concept, elk tags would be $125 for antlerless and $145 for bulls.

Then there is the "premium" designation. It is proposed that all early bull elk tags, including archery, muzzleloader and general firearms hunts, would be designated as premium hunts.

Those tags would be $200, up from $114.

Again: I have issues with that proposal.

First of all, I am not in favor of any hunts being designated as premium.

But there are elk hunts in some units that are not premium-quality hunts, such as in Unit 16A.

A big bull is occasionally taken there, but most bulls taken are spikes and rag horns.

The idea that just the department's current alternative management units (Units 1, 23, 9 and 10) be the only hunts designated as premium hunts was well received by those in the audience.

After a series of public meeting around the state, there will be more opportunities for the public to comment. The decision on license and tags fee will be made by the commission in August and will be in effect starting Jan. 1.

For more information, go to www.azgfd.gov/licensesimplification. To make a comment via email, send it to licenesimplification@azgfd.gov.

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