Sportsmen see good and bad in proposed fee increases

John Stuhlsatz so loves hunting and fishing that he’ll pay about anything for licenses and permits. But he fears others who aren’t as financially fortunate, or as dedicated, might not if the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism raises most fees in 2016.

“My biggest concern is that they may be hitting a group of people hard,” said Stuhlsatz, of Derby. “They need to realize we have a lot of people who go one or two times a year, like for the tradition and camaraderie. They may take a look at the increased costs and say no thanks.”

For an example, he used his girlfriend, who has hunted deer with her dad in the past.

“She didn’t hunt this past year just because she didn’t want to spend the money on a license and permit,” he said. “She’s a single mom and that $50 would pay for a lot of a week’s worth of groceries. Does she sacrifice any groceries for her son to go hunting? Of course not.”

If approved at an October Wildlife, Parks and Tourism commission meeting in Burlington, the proposed fee increases would be almost across the board,. Annual resident hunting and fishing license would go from $18 to $25. Resident deer permits would go from $30 to $40.

Youth licenses and permits would see no increases, nor would the requirements or costs for senior citizens 65 to 75 to purchase a lifetime combination hunting and fishing license for $40.

At Thursday’s commission meeting near Great Bend, Mike Miller, Wildlife and Parks information chief, said costs of most licenses hadn’t increased since 2002. Deer permits hadn’t increased in price for about 30 years.

Miller said the department debated fee increases in 2008, but declined because they had decent reserves and they wanted to keep hunting and fishing affordable during tough economic times.

“Prior to that we were raising fees about every four or five years, and usually two or three dollars,” said Miller. “We need to value our resources at their true value. It’s up to our agency to be successful because we are the natural resource agency for the state.”

Miller added thier reserves have dwindled in the past few years, and that the department doesn’t want to jeopardize things like the Walk-In Hunting Area program. Most agency employees haven’t had a raise in many years, which has lead many to take other jobs.

Miller had data that showed even with an increase, the cost of Kansas licenses and permits would be in line with what other Midwestern states are charging for general hunting and fishing licenses, and resident deer permits.

Charlie Stevens, of Downs, has no problem with the fee increases if the money goes to the right places.

“We’re due for a fee increase. I don’t remember the last one and everything has gone up,” he said. “If the money goes to help our people in the field, I have no problems. Some of our (game wardens) are some of the most underpaid in the nation. If it gets them better paid, and gets more of them in the field for us, it would be great. If it all goes to administration, I’d surely have a different opinion.”

Jason Thornton, of El Dorado, said he’s fine with the increases, especially if it helps hunting on public land.

“I hunted some walk-in (in the Flint Hills) last year and I was very impressed with it,” said Thornton. “I’ll pay the increase and I won’t complain about it. I’m getting more than my money’s worth. I’m glad to see the non-resident (fees) increase. I’ve always thought we were too cheap for them, anyway.”

If the new fee structure is approved in October, the cost of non-resident hunting and and fishing licenses would increase from $70 to $95 and their deer permits would increase from $300 to $400. Since both are needed, it would cost non-residents about $500 to hunt deer in Kansas.

Aaron Johnson, of Fort Collins, Colo., wasn’t in favor of the increase but said he’d probably pay it so he could meet his uncle from Oklahoma for archery deer hunts in northwest Kansas.

“If it means paying $500 to hunt with him, I’ll pay it,” said Johnson, originally from north of Tulsa. “I like that it has the bonus (whitetail antlerless) tag included. If it went back to just one deer, I would really be more hesitant. I might just go back to hunting in Oklahoma.”

Jim Fowles, Greenville, N.Y., said he considers the cost of an entire hunt, not just the permits and licenses, when considering if a hunt is well-priced. The price increases won’t keep him from hunting deer in Kansas for the second time this year.

“As far as the quality of the deer hunting, it was fantastic. It was as good as any place I’ve been and better than 90 percent of the states where I’ve hunted,” said Fowles, who has hunted deer in at least 10 states. “I agree, $500 is kind of steep, especially for whitetails, but the cost of hunting in Kansas is less than most places.”

Fowles was speaking of the costs of lodging, meals and leases or guides.

“It’s just an overall good experience,” he said. “The extra $100 won’t phase me.”