Opinion split on fee hikes
45% in favor, 48% opposed to DNR plan
February 8, 2007
BY ERIC SHARP
FREE PRESS OUTDOORS WRITER
Michigan adults are almost evenly split -- 45% in favor to 48% opposed -- on whether to increase the cost of hunting and fishing licenses, while 60% oppose the idea of extending fees to people to hike, cross-country ski or pick berries or mushrooms, the Detroit Free Press/Local 4 Michigan Poll shows.
Residents of the five-county metro Detroit region and western Michigan, and people in households with annual income of at least $85,000 were far more likely to support license fee increases. The greatest opposition came from residents of northern lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
The poll of 803 Michigan adults was conducted Jan. 28-31 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration presents its detailed budget to lawmakers today in Lansing. The budget plan will show what fee increases the governor has endorsed.
The Natural Resources Commission, which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources, has recommended that the agency seek license fee hikes that would double the cost of regular fishing and hunting licenses to about $26 and $30, respectively, and triple or quadruple the cost of senior licenses to $18-$24.
The NRC also has discussed creating new licenses for other state land users such as mushroom and berry pickers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiers. The commission and DNR managers said what the agency really needs is long-term financing that doesn't rely on user fees.
The DNR says that unless it gets more revenue from licenses, it will have a $10-million deficit next year that would climb to $30 million by 2010. The agency blames its financial crisis largely on fishing and hunting license fees that haven't kept up with inflation. In addition, the portion of its budget the DNR gets from the state general fund has dropped over the past decade from about 25% to 9%.
The poll also found that in Michigan households 39% have an angler, 26% have a hunter; 26% have a hiker, 18% have a bird-watcher, 13% have someone who picks mushrooms, other plants or berries, and 11% have a cross-country skier or snowshoer. About 35% of households don't have anyone who does any of those things.
Stephon Bagne of Troy, 36, is a hiker and angler who supports increased fishing and hunting fees and extending fees to other users of the outdoors.
"I think the benefits for the people who buy hunting and fishing licenses are much greater than what they pay for them," Bagne said. "The DNR could use more people. It always bothered me when I fished for salmon and I saw all those people snagging illegally. There were dozens of them, but the DNR didn't have enough people to enforce the laws."
Thomas Plaske, 77, who lives in Ewen in the UP, is a hunter who opposes both proposals, based mostly on his experience with other government projects in which he has seen a lot of waste.
"If they conserved money instead of wasting it, they wouldn't have to ask for more," Plaske said. "I don't know why the state should charge people to walk in the woods."
On the concept of creating licenses for people who enjoy outdoor pursuits other than fishing or hunting, 60% were opposed, 31% favored and 9% weren't sure.
Amy Macfarlane, 41, of Kalamazoo, doesn't do much outdoors but opposes the fee hikes and new licenses.
"I think the state is overregulated, and it's unnecessary," she said.
Joe Ford, 29, of Eaton Rapids, thinks hunting and fishing license fees should be raised, although he opposes creating fees for other users.
"Obviously, the state is in a major budget crisis," said Ford, who is an angler, hiker and bird-watcher. "But in the grand scheme of things, when you look at all the equipment you buy and what you spend on travel to hunt and fish, the cost of a license is water under the bridge. It really is just a small part of it. But if you're going to require a license to do things like picking berries or mushrooms, I think that would discourage young families from going out in the woods."
Detroiter William Osbern supports increasing license fees and creating new licenses.
"I fish occasionally, and I try never to miss deer season, but I'm a dinosaur," said Osbern, 59. "I'd like to keep doing these things, but I guess the economy has got so bad that if you suggest any kind of increase people get very upset by it."
He said other states charge more than Michigan for lots of services.
"They have these toll roads where they charge you three or four times in a couple of hundred miles. People have to recognize that some fee increases are necessary," he said.
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