Missouri Accepting Comments on Permit Changes

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Missourians have until Dec. 16 to comment on hunting and fishing permit changes approved recently by the Missouri Conservation Commission.

The Conservation Commission approved proposed changes to the structure and prices of hunting, fishing and trapping permits at its meeting Sept. 26 in Poplar Bluff. The agency published details of the changes in four press releases Sept. 29. Earlier Conservation Department press releases announced that the commission was discussing permit changes at its monthly meetings.

A summary of the proposed permit changes is available at MissouriConservation.org/18728. The legal version will appear in the Missouri Register at MissouriConservation.org/9473 on Nov. 17. This will start a 30-day comment period that closes Dec. 16. The changes are scheduled to become effective July 1, 2009.

Comments can be sent to Dave Erickson, Regulations Committee, Mo. Dept. of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.

All comments will be compiled and sent to the Conservation Commissioners for their information and consideration. The Conservation Commission may decide to rescind, alter or continue with changes as previously approved.

Conservation Department Assistant Director Dave Erickson chairs the agency's Regulations Committee. He said the committee began developing recommendations for permit changes more than a year ago in response to several needs. The set of permit changes eventually recommended by the committee were designed to maintain revenues, simplify the permit structure and make it more consistent and encourage new hunters.

"The Conservation Commission recognized that trends in permit sales and other revenues were not keeping up with the cost of conservation programs," said Erickson. "We cut 40 staff positions this year so we could live within our means, and we are examining possible cuts in programs and services for the same reason."

He said service reductions could take several forms. The agency could cut expenditures for wildlife management, close facilities or curtail assistance to landowners. Some critics of the permit changes have suggested that the agency sell conservation areas to pay agency bills.

"Whatever economy measures we implement will have to take into account biological and social factors, as well as the Department's finances," said Erickson. "Missourians are proud of their conservation program, and they have high expectations for what they get from it. The Conservation Commission has to strike a balance between services that hunters and anglers consider essential and the growing cost of those services."

Most of the resident permit fee increases approved by the Conservation Commission were $3 or less. Youths and seniors both get price breaks under the new permit price structure.

The Conservation Commission approved larger price increases for nonresident permits, but even with those increases, said Erickson, Missouri remains competitive with other states' nonresident fees.

One of the "other changes" that Erickson mentioned is increasing the minimum acreage a Missouri resident must own to qualify for no-cost deer and turkey hunting permits. The current requirement is 5 acres. Under the new rules, only resident landowners with 80 or more contiguous acres will qualify for free deer and turkey hunting permits. Owners of 5 to 80 acres still will be able to hunt small game and fish on their land without permits.

Besides increasing permit revenues, the change in minimum acreage will bring in more federal wildlife dollars, which are based partly on permit sales.

Another change aimed at boosting federal aid for Missouri conservation programs is the creation of a new class of "forever" permits. These are offered to hunters and anglers age 60 through 65. Buying a "forever" permit allows hunters and anglers approaching retirement age to save money. At the same time, it allows the Conservation Department to collect federal-aid money for several years after the buyer purchases his or her last permit.

The Conservation Commission last approved price increases for some resident hunting and fishing permits in 2002. Those increases ranged from 50 cents to $2. Other permit prices have not changed for 10 years.