Bill that could double cost of hunting and fishing licenses proves unpopular

An effort by state wildlife officials to raise what it can charge for hunting and fishing fees appears likely to fail.

A Kansas Senate bill that would double what the state can charge for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses is so unpopular that it probably won’t make it out of committee, the head of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources said.

The licenses are required for most Kansans who hunt, fish or trap in the state — three activities voted into the Kansas Bill of Rights in 2016 by an overwhelming majority.

An annual resident hunting, fishing or fur harvesting license costs $25 with an additional $2.50 processing fee for each license. By state law, which caps those prices, that’s the most the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism can charge. It wants raise those prices at some undetermined time in the future, but did not provide a timeline to lawmakers.

Under the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 50, the state could double what it charges Kansans to hunt, fish or trap. A license for those activities could go as high as $50 a year. A combination hunt-fish license could go as high as $100 a year.

Raising the price of licenses that high goes against the idea that those activities are open to everyone, regardless of wealth, said Kansas Sen. Dan Kerschen.

Kerschen, a Garden Plain Republican, is chair of the joint committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. The fee increase was proposed to his committee by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. But after receiving nothing but negative feedback about the bill since it was introduced last week, he said it won’t make it out of his committee.

It’s important for Kansans, now and in the future, to be able to afford an opportunity to hunt, fish and trap in the state, Kerschen said. He said he’s concerned that the state is starting to treat those activities more like an industry than a recreational pastime.

“It’s understandable to think of it that way, but there has to be a balance to that,” Kerschen said.

The state’s wildlife department is almost entirely funded by hunters, anglers and trappers. It does not receive any money from the state general fund.

Last year, hunting licenses alone brought in $19.4 million to the department. It uses that money to fund things like the Walk-In Hunting Access program, which leases private ground and opens it for public hunting during designated seasons.

But even with that program, and other public land across the state, many hunters are having a hard time finding good hunting spots that aren’t leased out to outfitters or out-of-state hunters. Raising license prices anywhere close to the proposed levels would add another economic barrier to hunters who can’t afford a prime piece of hunting ground, Kerschen said.

“If you want to promote hunting and fishing in this state, that’s not really the way to do it,” Kerschen told The Eagle in a phone interview.

Mary Ware, a Democratic senator from Wichita, also has been hearing from residents concerned about the bill.

“One thing I can tell you is that there are lots of folks letting me know that they don’t appreciate this idea. I’ve received quite a few emails,” Ware said.

Even if the bill were to pass, the department would not charge more for licenses and fees without holding a public hearing on the increases, said Ron Kaufman, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

He said the department had heard from both opponents and supporters of the bill after it was introduced last week.

“Often, opponents change their minds once they learn that we are not proposing fee increases,” Kaufman said.

“Adjusting fee caps now would give the commission the authority and flexibility to incrementally increase some fees in the future if and when needed, but not without first holding a public hearing,” he said in a news release on Friday.

As for concerns about outdoor sports becoming more costly, Kaufman said many of the increasing costs are out of the department’s hands. Increasing the cost of licenses and fees could help ensure the public has access to places to hunt, fish and trap.

“Since we rely on federal dollars to help support our program, we cannot shut out non-residents, nor can we prevent them from privately arranging hunting or fishing access privileges with private landowners,” Kaufman said.

“The wildlife and fisheries programs and benefits that outdoor enthusiasts enjoy are possible because of license and permit fees,” Kaufman said.

The bill would allow the state to increase prices for out-of-state licenses and a variety of other permits and fees, including deer permits, waterfowl stamps and resident turkey tags.

Read the full text of the proposed legislation and track its progress by entering “SB50” into the “Find Bill” tab on kslegislature.org.

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.