Even Allan Ellis, the publisher of Maryland Hunting Quarterly, agrees that "we're talking about pennies per day" for those hard-core hunters. But Ellis, like many hunters, believes the cost should be shared with other outdoors enthusiasts, such as runners and bicyclists who also use the state's public lands for recreation.

"Hunters and fishermen are the only ones who are being asked to sustain their pursuits," Ellis said.

Huttner, who estimates that the new license fee will cost him an extra $3 a month, said that "wildlife-management areas in Maryland are paid for by hunters' dollars. It doesn't come from the general fund, and everyone else is getting a free ride off of us. For the most part, hunters have been willing to step up and assume that role."

Peditto said Maryland hunters should appreciate that the available wildlife-management areas to pursue their passion have nearly doubled from 60,000 acres to 112,000 acres, and that public hunting lands have also increased to about 500,000 acres. In the mid-1950s, only about 15,000 deer were killed by hunters; last year it was about 100,000.

Huttner agrees.

"For the opportunity you're afforded here in Maryland — from bears to turkeys to ducks and geese and deer — and the length of the season and the bag limits, I think you get a pretty product for your investment," Huttner said. "I don't want to see any more cuts in wildlife management. I'm afraid if less money is allocated, we're going to really start seeing a cut into the core basic services."

According to Peditto, the DNR generates about $8 million of its $10 million budget through license fees and the federal excise tax on guns and ammunition.

Peditto said that some surveys and other scientific studies, along with positions in the department, might have to be cut if the proposed increase is not passed. Many of these surveys and studies — particularly when it comes to deer and bears — could affect the hunting seasons. "Without the science," Peditto said, "you don't have the recreation."

Asked whether Maryland risks losing its hunters to neighboring states if the proposed increase goes through, Peditto said the DNR expects to take a hit. But given how much other states charge their hunters — as much as $134 in West Virginia and $143 in New Jersey, and as little as $60 in Pennsylvania — Peditto said he believes that it won't have a long-term impact.

But Compton and others say that the license fee increase is not the only change that might drive hunters away. Compton said that the proposal that would limit Maryland hunters to three bucks a year — compared with nine currently — could also shift the landscape away from local lands. Compton said the DNR's image could be damaged irreparably.

"It's going to taint the relationship," Compton said. "They're going to be looked at as The Man, as a political organization, not as a partner in conservation wildlife."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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