'Economics' might drive ODFW fee hikes

Hunters, anglers, taxidermists and commercial fishermen could see increases in their annual licenses — some for the first time in 35 years — under budget proposals the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to float among its constituents next month.

Agency officials are proposing fee increases ranging from 15 percent to as much as 500 percent beginning next year as a way to continue, or expand, funding for fish and wildlife programs over the next six years.

Agency managers want to test the public's appetite for having various fees keep up with inflation before asking the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in June to adopt a budget proposal that will be sent to Gov. Ted Kulongoski and, ultimately, the Oregon Legislature.

"It's economics," said Chuck Smith, a Medford man who serves on the ODFW's External Budget Committee that helps the agency steer spending and funding matters.

"People have to pay more for food and gas because of inflation," Smith said. "They have to pay more to hunt because of inflation."

Proposals range from a resident hunting/angling combination, which now costs $43.75 at license agents, to jump anywhere from $50 to $55. A resident angling license, which now costs $24.75, could rise to $29 to $31. While the current $21.50 harvest card to fish for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon could jump to $26 or $27.

Also on the table is a doubling of the $3 application fee Oregonians pay to take part in controlled-hunt lotteries and a raise of the $19.50 deer tag to $23 to $24.

Hunters and anglers last absorbed a new fee increase in 2004, but some poundage fees on commercial fish landings and some license fees for small public programs have gone untouched for years.

The state taxidermist license, which has been set at $5 a year since 1974, would become $25 just to adjust for inflation.

Commercial fishermen could see their vessel permits climb from $75 to $125 a year.

Laurie Byerly, the ODFW's deputy administrator for administration, said potential fee increases will be laid out in the form of at least three versions — low, medium and high-range.

Increases on the low end of the range would likely fund a status-quo of programs in the 1,300-employee agency through 2015, Byerly said.

Increases on the higher end of the range could lead to boosts in programs, such as more fish and wildlife enforcement and field biologists —common requests among Oregonians in past budget discussions, Byerly said.

Fees make up about one-third of the agency's biennial budget, which is $262 million for 2007-09. Oregon sold 919,937 hunting and angling license in 2006.

"It's really up to what people think they can take on and see what else they want to support," Byerly said.

ODFW budget analysts will put the finishing touches on the agency's various proposals this week before heading on a 17-day tour of Oregon to test the waters among the state's fishing and hunting public.

Public meetings begin April 7 in Portland and include stops in Medford, Klamath Falls, Roseburg, Gold Beach and Coos Bay.

The Medford meeting will be at 7 p.m. April 15 inside the Padgham Pavilion at the Jackson County Expo fairgrounds in Central Point.

The Gold Beach meeting, which concludes the tour, will be at 7 p.m. April 24 at the Gold Beach City Council Chambers.

The Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association, the state's largest hunting organization, has not taken a position on fee increases, OHA secretary Duane Dungannon said. But a recent poll of 1,000 new members shows a very slight majority favored higher fees to keep the ODFW programs at a status quo, Dungannon said.

Dungannon also said times are not only tough financially, but declines in angling and hunting opportunities might make fee increases not worth it to some Oregonians.

"They're being asked to pay more for a product that is perceived, by many, to be declining in quality," Dungannon said. "We're concerned that we don't price people out of participation."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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