An outcry of protests by some Maryland hunters upset about the substantial fee increase for yearly licenses has led to the Department of Natural Resources restructuring the proposal being considered by lawmakers.
According to Paul Peditto, the DNR's director of Wildlife and Heritage Services, the increase has been scaled back in a way to make it more "family friendly" and to encourage junior hunters to get their licenses.
Under the initial increase that is part of House Bill 1419, state residents would have had the cost of their annual licenses increase from $24.50, plus separate stamps for bowhunting and muzzloading privileges, to as much as $95 for a consolidated license.
Under the restructured plan that will be added to the bill as an ammendment next week during hearings in Annapolis, state residents will play no more than $72. That will include a basic firearms license ($40), as well as stamps for bowhunting ($10), muzzleloading ($10) and waterfowl ($12).
Another major change calls for junior hunters to pay what amounts to a $10.50 consolidated license fee, meaning they don't have to pay extra for stamps.
Peditto said the DNR, which faces the possibility of going bankrupt if it can not elmininate a deficit of more than $2 mllion, will also look to run its wildlife conservation operation "more efficiently." While a number of programs can't be cut, Peditto said that other more cost-effective measures can be taken, such as collecting information from its constituency online rather than holding meetings.
"We had a meeting last week that a few years ago would have attracted 500, but we only had 16," Peditto said.
Peditto said that DNR would "grudingly move forward" with the new poposal but expected to get widespread support based on the reaction at a stakeholders' meeting last Saturday in Annapolis. Peditto said the meeting was held "to see if we could find commond ground."
The DNR paid close attention to blogs, message boards and other media platforms addressing the proposed rate incease.
Lou Compton, president of the Maryland Bowhunters Society, said the initial proposal drew the ire of many families who hunt together, and some wrote on message boards saying that "it's going to screw up taking my kids out hunting."
Compton, who attended last week's meeting, said he "commended DNR for listening. They proved once again that they are taking what we say to heart."
Peditto reinterated that the hunting fees are "going to be put in a closed box," meaning they will be spent on wildlife conservation throughout the state and not other state projects such as highway improvement.