State approves license fee increases

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The higher costs are seen as needed to offset an expected $4.2 million budget gap.

By Landmark News Service

Hunters and anglers will be paying more to help the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries bridge the gap in a budget shortfall the agency expects to face in coming years.

Outdoors enthusiasts who take advantage of some DGIF facilities and property will also pay more — even if they don't fish, hunt or have a registered boat.

In a meeting Tuesday, the department's board voted to increase the cost of a number of fishing and hunting licenses and to implement a user fee at state wildlife management areas and department-owned lakes.

While the cost of some adult licenses will go up, many others, including those for youth licenses, will remain unchanged.

Among the licenses to go up for Virginia residents will be state general hunting and big-game licenses, as well as state fishing and trout licenses.

The price of those will go up $5, to $23, which includes a $1 issuance fee.

The license fee increases will take effect for licenses purchased starting July 1.

Fees that will remain unchanged include those for special hunting privileges, such as for hunters who use muzzleloaders, archery equipment or crossbows.

Fees for nonresident hunters and anglers will increase moderately. For example, a nonresident annual hunting license will cost $110, up from $85.

Annual nonresident fishing and trout licenses will go up $11, to $46.

The DGIF facility user fee will be $4 a day, including the $1 issuance fee.

The user fee increases will take effect Jan. 1, the delay necessary, in part, to produce signs at affected properties.

An annual permit will also be available, for the same $23 cost as an annual fishing or hunting license.

DGIF boat ramps on public waters, such as the New or James rivers, are exempt from the user fee requirement.

Matt Koch, the chief operating officer of the DGIF, told the board that the increases were necessary to help the department deal with an expected budget shortfall of $4.2 million in fiscal year 2012, which starts July 1.

The expected additional revenue will not completely solve the budget woes for the department, which gets no general fund tax revenue and obtains most of its funding from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, boat registration fees, and federal funding.

Koch outlined several proposed cost-saving tactics, including temporary cuts to elk and quail restoration plans, as well as printing the department's award-winning Virginia Wildlife magazine bi-monthly instead of monthly.

Board member Leon Turner said the plan suited him.

"I think we hit the right spots," said Turner, the only board member to vote against asking for license fee increases when the plan was announced last fall. "The proposed nonresident fees, I thought, were too high, and we got it down to where we can live with it and those folks can keep coming here."

Turner said he was also encouraged that the DGIF staff was willing to examine some cost-cutting measures.

Agency officials also said the longer lead time will allow for a public outreach effort to educate the public about the new fees.

Like hunting and fishing licenses, the permits will be available through the department's website, as well as at license agents.

The license fee plan introduced last fall was much more sweeping than what was adopted, proposing increases to all license fees.

Feedback during a four-month public comment period convinced the agency's staff to seek a compromise plan.


Proposed hunting regulation changes


In other action, the board adopted a long slate of proposed changes to hunting regulations, including some tweaking to deer and bear hunting regulations in Western Virginia, and adding a two-week turkey-hunting season in January in many counties.

The two proposals that generated the most public feedback both were defeated after failing to gain the support of the department's wildlife staff.

One was a plan to establish a bear tag, pulling the tag off the big-game license.

Hunters who pursue bears with hounds, many of whom are members of the well-organized Virginia Bear Hunters Association, had pushed for the change, saying the $25 per license fee could help fund the state's bear management program.

But the proposal was solidly opposed by many deer hunters who didn't like the idea of having to pay an extra $25 for a game animal they rarely encounter.

"I'm not ashamed of the stance we took on this," said Richard Sprinkle, vice president of the bear hunters group. "We knew we didn't have the support."

The DGIF staff also backed off a proposal to ban feeding deer during 11 months of the year, with feeding allowed only in July so hunters could lure deer to automatic game scouting cameras.

Deer hunters overwhelmingly opposed the proposal, which biologists had said could help limit possible disease transmission.

The board did, however, pass a regulation to prohibit wildlife feeding when it was found to cause "property damage, endangers people or creates a public health concern."