By JOHN PEPIN
& The Associated Press
MARQUETTE - Michigan's first significant increase in hunting and fishing license fees since 1997 passed the House Wednesday, a move that has the blessing of many outdoor groups.
Legislation, approved 77-32 by the Republican-led chamber, would raise about $20 million more for wildlife, fisheries and habitat programs, a 40 percent boost. The fee hikes, which legislators built into the next state budget at the request of Gov. Rick Snyder, would begin in March 2014.
Gary Modlin, a past president of U.P. Whitetails of Marquette County said the group remains in favor of the fee increase, despite some other Whitetails groups and members disagreeing.
"Whitetails Marquette County has been in favor of an increase in fees for many years," Modlin said. "You can't do the things we are asking the DNR to do without the funding."
Michigan has 227 different types of hunting and fishing license fees. The bill headed to the Senate would leave the state with approximately 40, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis.
The proposal would create a "base" hunting license costing $11 for in-state residents, with lower rates for youths and seniors. For out-of-state hunters, the price would be $151. The base license would pay for hunting waterfowl, migratory birds and small game such as rabbits.
Separate fees still would be levied for hunting certain species, and some of those would increase: Tags for deer would rise from $15 to $20, and the bear license from $15 to $25. A 24-hour fishing license would increase from $7 to $10. The fee for a seasonal all-species license would drop from $28 to $25 for Michigan residents, but rise from $42 to $75 for out-of-state anglers.
In March, DNR Director Keith Creagh visited the Upper Peninsula and discussed the proposed fee increases with local groups and media.
At that time, Jim Cantrill, president of the Fred Waara Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Marquette, said that "as a conservation organization devoted to the protection and restoration of coldwater fisheries in the Upper Peninsula," his organization "thinks it's high time the anglers in Michigan accept a modest increase in the cost of fishing licenses."
Cantrill said there has not been any significant change in pricing since the mid-1990s and the need to protect our natural resources has never been greater.
"To the extent the extra funds would be earmarked solely for the use of increasing enforcement of existing regulations, improving fish habitat, and better understanding the dynamic forces that are increasingly threatening fisheries in the State of Michigan, we believe Governor Snyder's proposal is aptly timed and well warranted," Cantrill said. "Further, we do not believe a modest increase in annual hunting and fishing licenses will significantly deter sporting activity in our state, especially since Michigan has one of the lowest fee structures in the entire country."
Supporters said purchasing power has eroded over time.
"People don't mind it if they know where the money's going," said bill sponsor Rep. Jon Bumstead, a Newaygo Republican and a hunter. "It can sell itself if somebody will just listen."
Bumstead, who chairs the House committee that oversees the state Department of Natural Resources budget, said the agency did a good job telling outdoor groups how the additional revenue would be spent.
Also Wednesday, the House voted 70-39 to increase the off-road vehicle license fee from $16.25 to $26.25 starting in April 2014, with the extra $2.7 million in revenue mostly going to improve the 3,700-mile trail network. For $36.25, riders also could use state trails.
The bills were sent to the GOP-controlled Senate for its consideration.