Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Say ‘Yes’ to a hunting license fee increase

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Feb. 16, 2008.)
The PGC has no taxing authority.
It has no line item in the state budget.
And it can’t run at a deficit.
I hate to say this, but it’s time the Pennsylvania Game Commission be permitted to raise license fees.

I know that lots of hunters will disagree with me. They will say a higher price will mean fewer licenses sold. They’re probably right. They will say fewer licenses sold will mean fewer hunters and fewer hunters will have a weaker voice in game management, gun and hunting rights issues. They have a good point.

Many people may not realize that the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s principle source of funding comes from the hunters who buy licenses. That means that aside from unstable timber and mineral revenues, hunters are paying all the bills. We have not had a license increase in nine years, and the costs of running a game management program continue to rise.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission was chartered in 1895 to remain independent of the state legislature, and as such it cannot run as a government. It has no taxing authority. It has no line item in the state budget. And it can’t run at a deficit.

Like a business, it depends on its customers for revenue. But unlike a business, it can’t raise and lower prices, nor are prices dependent upon the market. The state legislature must approve any license increase proposed by the PGC. Saying “No” is an easy, cost-free, high-visibility way for state legislators to look good while they do wrong.

Being saddled to the state legislature has a benefit. The PGC has no owner. It has no trustees. It has no shareholders. Without these, it would have no fiscal accountability. That’s the role the legislature plays.

Getting politicians to cooperate is time-consuming, so the lag between asking for and getting an increase creates a cumbersome situation. First, one of them must be willing to sponsor the legislation. Then they drag their feet, debate, pander and strike deals – always under pressure from voters – while PGC work goes on and PGC costs continue to rise.

Lots of deer hunters will no doubt think that the PGC has mismanaged the deer program and will say that it should be left to lie in the bed it has made. They might even say that the PGC has failed in its responsibilities. But its charter makes it responsible not just for deer, not just for game animals, but for about 400 wildlife species in the state, even if they’re not game animals. The PGC fails when any species suffers.

The PGC gets pressure from everyone – not just hunters – and there is no way to please everyone. Even the state Supreme Court has gotten into the act, now insisting that the PGC manage wild hogs that have escaped from private owners.

Some people will say that the PGC should cut out waste before asking for an increase – not realizing that the PGC has been in a stringent cost-containment program since 2006 when the legislature most recently failed to act on an increase. It sent lots of people into retirement back then, and many critical jobs have not been filled.

Some hunters will say that the PGC has destroyed small game hunting. Quality small game hunting is available on the land the PGC manages, but it cannot manage private property. Responsibility for the loss of small game habitat cannot be laid on the doorstep of the PGC.

I remember when the $5 I could get for a deer hide was enough to pay for my license. Some hunters might see that as evidence that higher license fees are a sign that hunting is becoming a rich man’s sport. But license fees have a lot less to do with that than limited access to land and the other costs that go into hunting. Comparisons are hard to make, but even with a fee increase (which would be only the second increase in 23 years), the cost of a license in Pennsylvania will be a bargain when compared to other states.

The reality is that the Game Commission has created more opportunities for today’s hunters than any hunters who have gone before. Without proper funding of the PGC, we risk someday looking back on these days as the good old days.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The New License System is Finally Here

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Feb. 2, 2008.)
If you are not tech-savvy, don’t worry. You won’t have
to struggle through a difficult self-service computer system.
At last. The “point-of-sale” system for buying hunting licenses will arrive in time for the 2008-2009 license year.

Pennsylvania sportsmen are finally entering the electronic age as the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission replace their respective paper-based licensing systems with a common computer-based automated system.

If you are not tech-savvy, don’t worry. You won’t have to struggle through a difficult self-service computer system. And you won’t have to stand before the issuing agent and answer a load of questions about yourself.

When you stop into a store to buy your hunting license, you’ll just swipe your driver’s license through a magnetic reader – similar to the credit card reader at most store checkouts. (Obviously there will be a little more to it if you don’t have a driver’s license.)

The agent will then offer you the opportunity to confirm current personal data (such as name, address and date of birth), make corrections, choose your licenses and stamps, and make the payment. Everything (including harvest tags) will be printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.

Once you buy your first license under the new system, all the personal data the licensing agent asks for will be in the system, eliminating the tedium of answering personal questions about your height, body weight and eye color.

With this streamlined system you’ll always receive the same license number, just as you do with your driver’s license. Once you’ve purchased a license under the new system, you’ll no longer have to give your social security number to the agent. And hunters will now have the option of submitting big game harvest reports using the Internet.

The benefits are not only to the hunter. The licensing agents and the Commission will enjoy some pluses. Auditing and reporting information to Harrisburg will no longer be a manual process for agents. The Commission will gain easier access to demographic information about who is buying licenses – including age, gender, dates of purchase and other data.

Knowing who is buying licenses and when they buy them are important to the Commission’s ability to market its services – and might help stem the downward trend in license sales.

Although antlerless licenses can’t at the present time be included in the point-of-sale system (because state law prevents it), a hunter will now be able to mail an antlerless application to any county treasurer – regardless of the Wildlife Management Unit he or she plans to hunt in.

The new system will eliminate the task of resubmitting antlerless deer license applications for second and third choices of Wildlife Management Units. The hunter will indicate first, second and third preferences on the first application.

Be warned that antlerless application deadlines will be earlier – the first round deadline will be the third Monday in July. Check your Hunting and Trapping Digest for the complete timeline.

One more thing the PGC should do: eliminate the back-tag and allow the hunter to carry his license in a wallet. At least three times, I’ve lost my license when my holder tore or became unpinned from my jacket. Each time I was lucky enough to find it. Once, I was walking across a field with my back to the wind, and someone’s license came blowing by me. I ran to pick it up and discovered that it was mine. Good thing the wind wasn’t blowing another direction.

That proves first, that sitting with my back to a tree calling a turkey is hard on my license holder. Second, that duct tape is one of the hunter’s best friends. And third, that sometimes hunters need to be lucky.

Speaking of luck, realism says this system will probably need a little luck to iron out any wrinkles. Optimism says this new system is sure to be better than the old one. If you have difficulty the first time, exercise some of the patience that hunters and fishermen are famous for.