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02-17-03: Local wildlife officers support fee hike
Auglaize and Mercer county hunters and fishermen could see increase for

The Daily Standard
    Wildlife officers in Auglaize and Mercer counties say the fee hikes for hunting and fishing licenses in Gov. Bob Taft's proposed budget are necessary.
    Taft's budget increases hunting and fishing licenses from $15 each to $18. Those licenses currently are free to senior citizens, but would increase to $10 each if the budget is approved as proposed right now. The increases would go into effect in 2004.
    Mercer County Wildlife Officer Ryan Garrison said many local hunters and other sportsmen and women he has talked with think the additional funds generated from the hunting and fishing license fee hikes would be used to pay for things other than division of wildlife matters. That's incorrect, he says.
    And he worries that criticism from hunters and fishermen based on this incorrect perception could influence legislators to delete the license fee increases from the state's budget, which could in turn gut the division.
    As part of his $49.2 million, two-year budget, Taft earlier this month proposed increasing hunting and fishing license fees, license fees for nurses, veterinarians, barbers and a variety of other state services to bring in $96.4 million. In most cases, Taft said the increases are needed to meet operating costs or to cover the costs of providing the service. Legislators currently are wrangling over Taft's budget to try to come up with a final state budget.
    "I've talked with people who think this is just another tax and the money is going to be spent on schools and other things not related to wildlife," Garrison said. "That's not true."
    By law, hunting and fishing license fees go into a wildlife fund that cannot be used for any other purpose than those programs and issues that affect hunters and anglers.
    Last week Garrison spoke with Pheasants Forever in Darke County, a group that promotes increasing wildlife habitat for pheasants. Next week he plans to speak with the Mercer County Friends of the National Rifle Association, a group of hunters and anglers, and four other sportsmen groups in Mercer County. Garrison said he has been encouraging them to contact their state legislators.
    Garrison said all funds generated by the license increases would go back into funding Division of Wildlife initiatives. And the increased fees are necessary to keep the Division of Wildlife running.
    Roughly 90 percent of the Division of Wildlife's annual revenues are generated from hunting, trapping and fishing licenses.
    Garrison noted that hunting and fishing license fees have not increased since 1994 and that the first hunting and fishing licenses cost $1 each in 1913.
    "In 90 years licenses will have only gone up $18 if the budget is passed the way it is now," he added.
    Auglaize County Wildlife Officer Dave Sheets also has been busy talking with sportsmen and conservation groups. He said people he's talked to also had the mistaken perception that funds generated from increases in fishing and hunting license fees would go to fund non-wildlife issues.
    Sheets said regardless of the nation's and Ohio's cash-strapped budgets, the division would have to increase hunting and fishing license fees anyway. Division officials had been discussing license fee increases and charging senior citizens for hunting and fishing licenses before the state's economy got so bad.
    "Even if the state of Ohio was rolling in the money, the Division of Wildlife would still have to increase license fees to maintain an even keel with its programs," Sheets said.
    Division of Wildlife Assistant Chief Randy Miller said the division gave away $5.2 million in free licenses to senior citizens last year. Senior citizens who currently are receiving free licenses - those born before Jan. 1, 1938 - will continue to get free licenses due to the grandfather clause. Those born after Jan. 1, 1938, will have to pay the new fee under Taft's proposal.
    According to information from the division, license fees pay for fish stocking, wild turkey stocking, managing the state's whitetail deer population and other wildlife management services and programs. Funds to stock walleye in Grand Lake St. Marys and wild turkeys in Mercer and Auglaize counties in recent years came from the Division of Wildlife.
    During the last 2 to 21Ž2 years, the division already has reduced its personnel level to the lowest number in 20 years, cut budgets for operations, maintenance and equipment by 10 percent, and consolidated and combined field facilities.


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