Despite Sportsmen’s Urging, Ohio Says No to Resident Fee Increase

Supporters believe fee hike would help address growing list of wildlife concerns

Friday, May 5, 2017

By Lisa Lakey

Hunters have traditionally supported costs that ensure conserving the sport they love.

Amid concerns expressed by Ohio sportsmen and women, 23 conservation and hunting groups rallied together to ask legislators to increase both resident and non-resident license fees for hunting, fishing and trapping. But despite the groups’ request and concern over a lack of protective resources, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources director has said no to resident fee increases.

“Raising fees on Ohioans should be the last option, not the first,” ODNR director James Zehringer said in a letter released at the end of April.

Supporters of the fee hike cited concerns over counties with no wildlife law presence, decreasing fish stocking, decreases in wildlife habitat management and a growing list of projects that need to see completion. And according to the Sportsmen’s Alliance, the group leading the fight, resident fee increases are long overdue.

“In 2003, Ohio sportsmen and women promised then-Governor Bob Taft that if he raised license fees that the funds would last for at least ten years,” Luke Houghton, associate director of state services for the Sportsmen’s Alliance, said. “We’ve gone well past that mark now, and it’s time to take action. Rising healthcare costs and other increases over the past 14 years have taken their toll on the services sportsmen and women, and all Ohioans, have come to rely upon. We’re asking Governor Kasich and the legislature to address this need by raising license fees.”

But Zehringer said the department isn’t against raising rates, just those of residents. The Ohio House of Representatives introduced a budget bill last week that included increases on non-resident deer and wild turkey permits.

The ODNR released a statement the department said, “ODNR has supported adjusted fees on non-resident participants in the past and supports the effort once again, as this change would align Ohio’s fees more closely with the non-resident structures of other states.”

But Zehringer stands firm in his decision not to support any fee increases on residents, a move he says would harm Ohio’s economy rather than help.

“You don’t have to be an economist to understand that increased costs mean decreased participation,” he said. “History reflects this reality. The last three fee increases for resident fishing licenses, for example, have led to decreases in sales ranging from 12 percent to 4.8 percent. Hunting licenses show a similar drop in sales each time fees are raised. Fewer licenses sold can also reduce federal funds that flow back to Ohio.”

Conservation groups are pushing for the non-resident deer-hunting license to go from the current $149 for a license and tag to $250. The state attracts roughly 40,000 nonresident hunters annually. The groups are asking for a more modest increase for residents, adding just $3 to the current hunting and fishing fees.

The Sportsmen’s Alliance insists that Ohio residents are glad to pay the higher fees to solve the issues that concern them.

“Without an increase however, customer satisfaction will continue to drop, and the hunting and fishing economies with it,” Houghton said. “Fortunately, this is all preventable because Ohio’s outdoor community is willing to pay for the needed improvements.”