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By Victor Skinner
LANSING – Michigan Rep. Richard LeBlanc wants to bring back lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, but wildlife officials are concerned the effort could negatively impact funding and complicate management efforts.
LeBlanc, D-Westland, introduced House Bill 5334 to provide a broader licensing option by offering lifetime licenses for deer hunting and fishing. The bill, currently in the House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee, would also create a comprehensive lifetime license that includes fishing, deer, bear, waterfowl, and fur harvesting permits.
“I know three people who purchased a lifetime license quite a few years ago, and I wondered why it’s no longer an option,” LeBlanc said. “I think there are some people out there who would like to buy a lifetime license.”
The legislation would create lifetime licenses for firearm and archery deer hunting for $285 each, and a lifetime small game license for $220. Lifetime fishing licenses would cost $220. A comprehensive lifetime license would be $1,025.
LeBlanc said he believes the comprehensive option could help to broaden hunting interests beyond whitetails.
“It’s like if you buy the lifetime, all-encompassing license … you might be more likely to try something” new in the woods, he said.
Officials with Michigan United Conservation Clubs believe there is interest among hunters for multi-species or multi-year options, and they plan to gauge support on the issue from their members this summer, said Kent Wood, MUCC legislative affairs manager.
Because federal funding for wildlife work is based in part on the number of people who purchase a license each year, the impact of HB 5334 and other options on annual license sales would be a top concern, he said.
“It seems like a comprehensive license with multiple species or seasons in it, we would be okay as far as federal funding,” Wood said. “I think with a lifetime license there would be some questions that need to be answered.
“Would that lifetime license money be counted every year? If not, we would probably be missing out on some federal funds.”
DNR Chief Budget Officer Sharon Schafer said 3,135 hunters and anglers purchased lifetime hunting or fishing licenses when the state last offered them in 1989, totaling about $1 million in sales. Those licenses are counted toward the total number purchased each year, and the money is held in a trust, with a portion withdrawn each year based on actual licenses used.
Federal funding is calculated using the number of unique license buyers and the total license sales money generated to match the federal dollars, among other factors. Lifetime licenses wouldn’t impact that process in the short term, but could cause complications down the road, Schafer said.
“Our federal funding would not be affected by this, but the issue with this bill is the fees included are just not sufficient to sustain wildlife work in Michigan,” she said. A young sportsman with a $1,025 comprehensive lifetime license could easily use much more than that amount in tags over the course of their life, she said.
“You have to spread it out over their lifetime,” Schafer said.
DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason said lifetime licenses can also cause issues with wildlife management efforts, especially for popular game species. He believes lifetime licenses are something the state should “avoid like the plague.”
“A lifetime license holder would come up and say ‘When I bought this I could hunt bear wherever I wanted, every year,’” Mason said, adding that officials are forced to develop a special process for lifetime license holders when the rules change.
“Frankly, all of these (special licenses) make it harder to ensure sustainable funding,” Mason said. “Let’s talk about what we need to do to sustain conservation work in this state.”