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Hunters’ push for license fee hike revealing TOM VENESKY OUTDOORS

Here’s a twist: People who want to pay more for something.

Hard as it may be to believe, a group of more than 1,110 hunters wants to pay more to do what they love.

Specifically, they want a hunting license fee increase and feel so strongly about it that they’re circulating a petition to get it.

And they’re afraid that the Pennsylvania Game Commission might not survive if they don’t get their way.

The last time the agency received a hunting license fee increase was 1999, when the price was boosted from $12.50 to $20. This group of hunters says it’s time for another increase so the Game Commission can continue doing its job.

A price hike for anything – hunting licenses included – is rarely popular. In this case it may be particularly controversial because many hunters have expressed disappointment with the way the agency has managed the deer herd for the last several years.

But the petition for a fee increase recognizes that fact by stating, “While we may not agree with all PGC decisions on wildlife management, we believe a license increase is needed to assure our wildlife is scientifically managed in the future.”

Melody Zullinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and an organizer of the petition, said the names will be presented to state legislators before they go on break this summer.

In the meantime, she said, people can sign the petition either online at www.gundogalliance.com/petition/ or request a copy from the federation.

When legislation was introduced to increase the cost of a fishing license from $16.25 to $20 in 2004, I supported the measure because the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission was at the point where it would have had to begin cutting programs that are vital to anglers if it didn’t get additional funding.

That increase was signed into law in 2005, and I’m in favor of a similar one for the Game Commission for the same reasons. I’m afraid if the Game Commission doesn’t increase its hunting license fees, it will have to cut programs.

To accurately gauge the impact, one has to look beyond the deer issue. Sure, I think there are areas where deer have been over-harvested and the population needs a break. But the license fee increase issue is bigger than deer because it affects all wildlife.

The problem is that a petition may not be the answer to the problem because it’s more of a gesture than a solution. That’s because a license fee increase has to be approved by state legislators. If they approve such a measure right now, it could cost them their jobs when hunters go to the polls. Those hunters, already upset with the way the agency has managed deer and faced with having to pay more for their licenses, are likely to take retribution come election time.Another issue is that the current Game Commission board won’t be able to do anything if the agency vanishes into bankruptcy. I’m optimistic some members of the commission want to address the deer issue, but will they be around to do it?

The tragic reality is that hunters, legislators and the agency are up against the proverbial wall.

Still, the petition does present a unified voice on the matter and, if heeded, could help sustain valuable programs such as habitat improvement, furbearer studies, pheasant propagation and species reintroduction. It would be tragic if those programs were discontinued.

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