By Louie Stout
As most Michiana sportsmen know, you’re going to be paying more for an Indiana license next season.
And in some cases, a lot more.
Let’s be honest. The Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), stewards of hunting and fishing, needs the money. The last license fee increase came 16 years ago.
It has operated in the red for the past few years, which caused rollbacks in some programs and a hiring freeze. Several vacancies remain in northern Indiana, where many district biologists have worked without assistants for several months. That limits the amount of research one man can do and any new projects he can take on.
Fish managers have struggled to hire seasonal or part-time help because of low pay. A guy flipping hamburgers at McDonalds makes more than a creel clerk or laborer who is aspiring to be a biologist.
And so is the fact that Indiana has had to return some of the federal excise tax dollars sportsmen spent because the state couldn’t come up with its 25 percent of matching funds.
In other words, that license increase was long overdue. However, it would have been nice if DNR leaders would have let us know and not sprang it on us after the fact.
There was no notification to the public that it was in the works, except for a paragraph buried in the agenda of a Natural Resources Commission meeting – an agenda that few license holders ever read.
There was no announcement to the media beforehand – but then this DFW regime doesn’t share news on much of anything except what benefits the central office.
There wasn’t even a peep on social media - where the DNR mistakenly thinks everyone gets his outdoors news.
When Amanda Wuestefeld was appointed head of the Fish and Wildlife Division a few years ago, she boasted about how she was going to work closer with the public. She said the division would be “integrating more public opinion in the projects it undertakes.”
Well, that sure didn’t happen here.
Director Wuestefeld’s “social science” pledge apparently doesn’t include programs that impact DNR constituents’ wallets.
Or maybe DNR higher-ups overseeing the DFW thought if they quietly slipped it past you during the holidays there would be less blow back.
That’s crazy. The DNR had a solid case for the license increase and could have sold it to Hoosiers with adequate explanation, but chose not to do it.
And then there’s the issue of the DNR waiting 16 years to raise license fees while all DFW costs continued to go up.
Politics - pure and simple. Governors have feared hunting and fishing fee increases would be labeled as tax increases and those don’t bode well for re-election.
In addition, politically-appointed DNR Directors didn’t have the balls to go to the governor who appointed them and fight for it.
While DNR leaders played cover-my-ass, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has had to pinch pennies to fund basic hunting and fishing programs it oversees.
Bigger fees but small rewards
State officials say the new pricing was based upon a comparison of license fees charged by Indiana’s surrounding states.
Fair enough, but man, there were some significant jumps in some of the licenses. Most resident licenses only rose from $5 to $7 but the deer license bundle for Hoosier deer hunters rose from $65 to $91 and the non-residents saw a $255 increase.
Nonresident fees took a hit, too. A nonresident annual fishing license jumped from $35 to $60. And if you are going trout and salmon fishing, add another $11 for the annual trout and salmon stamp, a fee that didn’t increase.
While substantial, it’s still a tad below what a Hoosiers will pay for an annual Michigan fishing license ($76).
Don’t blame biologists or their supervisors; they have your best interests in mind. They’re sportsmen, too, and have always worked diligently to maintain good fishing and hunting, given the limited resources that the DNR Ivory Tower provides them.
Perhaps this added cash will fund the staffing they need to work more efficiently and effectively, but don’t expect to see significant changes in fishing and hunting programs.