The Rising Cost of a Hunting License

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This bronze sculpture outside the regional PGC office in Franklin, PA is a testimony to the most visible animal the Game Commission manages, but the responsibilities of the Pennsylvania Game Commission go far beyond the whitetail deer.
This bronze sculpture outside the regional PGC office in Franklin, PA is a testimony to the most visible animal the Game Commission manages, but the responsibilities of the Pennsylvania Game Commission go far beyond the whitetail deer.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

I confess. I’ll go along with the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s desire to increase the cost of a hunting license.

I’m frugal. I don’t like rising prices. So why am I willing to pay more for my hunting privileges? Especially when New York State decreased license fees virtually across-the-board in 2014?

I figure it this way. The increase the Pennsylvania Game Commission is looking for is $10. Since the last license increase, the price of an average box of ammunition has risen by more than that. The price of a rifle has shot up. We still buy these things. And we buy other hunting gear such as tree stands and clothing, much of which is being made off shore to keep prices competitive.

But we can’t send game management off shore. We hire biologists and conservation officers and land managers and geologists and secretaries and custodians and accountants … and the list goes on. In all, about 700 employees handle all wildlife management in the state, not just deer. They watch over bluebirds, bald eagles and all other birds and mammals — 480 species in all, most of which are not hunted.

Are the employees of the Pennsylvania Game Commission overpaid? You decide. The average salary in the PGC ranks 56 out of 64 Pennsylvania state agencies. Would you want to work for one of the lowest paid state agencies? Would morale be high? Wouldn’t it be harder to recruit well-qualified people?

The Game Commission last had a hunting license fee increase in 1999. The only time the PGC went longer without an increase was during the Great Depression through World War II. Since the last increase, personnel costs have doubled. As in every other state agency, every business, and every non-profit, the PGC has had to tighten its belt, thanks to many increases in costs including the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). It has used hiring freezes, attrition, and other mechanisms to deal with the unpleasant fiscal facts of 21st century life, and still it has run a $5 million to $6 million deficit for the last two years, and projects a $12 million deficit for this year.

When the tax base grows, more people pay taxes, more businesses start, more goods are sold and government revenues increase. But Pennsylvania’s wildlife funding, by statute, is not connected to government tax revenues. License fees make up almost 40% of its budget, and can only be increased by an act of the state legislature. A vote for a license increase is a high visibility vote, so it takes courage for a state legislator to support an increase.

People say that if the cost of a hunting license rises, fewer licenses will be sold and fewer hunters will be in the field. A corollary is that lower prices bring more people into the sport, but it may not raise more money. When New York overhauled its hunting license fee system in 2014, lower prices resulted in more licenses sold, but also lower revenue. It’s a tough balancing act.

Every inflationary cost that hits you and me, plus some that don’t, hits the Pennsylvania Game Commission. So, it’s time for gun hunters to bite the bullet and archery hunters to bite the broadhead. We can all ante up a little more. We can offset the increase by conserving ammo, by wearing our camouflage for another year or two, or by delaying the purchase of a new treestand.

But the larger message is far more important, whatever state we live in. We need to preach the message constantly to all who will hear that it’s hunters who pay the lion’s share for wildlife management, not the animal rights advocates, not the tree huggers, not anyone else.

Hunters lead the way, and hunters should be proud of that. So unless game management departments across the land begin issuing licenses to others who enjoy wildlife including bird watchers and photographers (and we know that’s not going to happen), I support the PGC in seeking an increase in license fees.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. To read more of Steve Sorensen’s thoughts about hunting, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com.