Sportsmen and sportswomen may soon be paying higher fees for hunting and fishing licenses under a new proposal by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).
Citing increases in operating costs, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announced Monday that it is seeking to change the structure and fees for hunting and fishing licenses in the state, as well as adding new fees for recreational activities on wildlife management areas, in order to maintain its successful wildlife, fisheries and education programs.
“The reality is that managing our wildlife and fisheries has never been more expensive than it is today,” said TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter. “Our objective with this proposal is to spread the cost of these programs across more user groups who utilize Tennessee’s public lands and waters.”
TWRA operations and programs are funded almost exclusively through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, boating registrations and federal excise taxes on hunting equipment.
This is only the second proposed increase in license fees in the last 25 years, the last taking place in 2005. Expenses such as fish food, seed corn and even basic law enforcement training have increased dramatically since 2004 according to figures released by the agency.
“We employ 46 fewer people Agency-wide now than we did eight years ago, and salaries and benefits such as health insurance have increased significantly,” Carter said. “Our wildlife officers, biologists and other staff do an incredible job, and we’re doing more work with fewer people than ever before to provide world-class outdoor opportunities.”
The proposal would increase existing hunting and fishing license fees across the board based on the increase of the Consumer Price Index over the last ten years, while adding new senior citizen license options and license fees for professional hunting and fishing guides.
Public lands are open to the enjoyment of the public. However, in the past only sportsmen carried the burden of funding the TWRA through license fees. This proposal would spread that funding burden across more groups of people using the public lands and facilities, including horseback, off-highway vehicle and mountain bike riders who have a significant impact on public lands, and fees for use of TWRA shooting ranges.
“Our mission is to manage the fish and wildlife of the state and their habitats for the use, benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of Tennessee and its visitors,” Carter said. “We take that responsibility very seriously and have been very successful in creating access for all user groups to these incredible public resources. We’re now asking more of those users to contribute to the effort.”
TWRA programs are responsible for the growing populations of deer, wild turkeys, bald eagles, black bears and elk in Tennessee over the last 65 years. The agency manages 1.5 million acres of publicly accessible land, an area about three times the size of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and aids landowners in creating wildlife habitat. In addition, the TWRA manages more than 250 public boating access points statewide and stocks state waters with millions of fish.
“This new fee structure will allow us to continue doing the good work we do every day for Tennessee’s wildlife and fisheries into the foreseeable future, without having further cuts to programs,” Carter said. “We don’t take these increases lightly, which is why this is only the second time in 25 years that we’ve sought such an action. But it’s the reality of today’s economy, and a burden we can all share incrementally.”
“There’s no question that the world-class hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities available today in Tennessee simply didn’t exist 25 years ago, and we’re excited to continue enhancing those resources for the public good.”
The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider the TWRA proposal in January 2015. If approved, the new fee structure would go into effect on July 1, 2015. Tennessee hunting and fishing licenses expire on Feb. 28, 2015 and new licenses will be available at current prices from mid-February through the end of June.