Recomendations made to boost Fish & Wildlife revenues

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(Host) A task force looking into ways to boost sagging revenues for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department has come up with a series of proposed recommendations.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Traditionally the department has been funded primarily from the sale of fishing, hunting and trapping licenses.

Now, though, the department is faced with a $4 million shortfall out of an annual budget of roughly $14 million.

In recent years, it’s asked the Legislature for money from the state’s General Fund to help make up the difference.

The department has also cuts costs by leaving a number of positions unfilled.

Evan Hughes is with the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. Hughes says there are a couple of reasons for the department’s budget problems.

(Hughes) “License sales have been declining for several years and Fish and Wildlife has been incurring assigned tasks that weren’t the type of tasks they handled in the past. In particular they really don’t have much to do with the traditional fish and game duties that the department had for many years.”

(Zind) Hughes is a member of the Fish and Wildlife Task Force, which has been meeting since last fall to look for a more permanent solution to the department’s budget problems.

The task force is made up of representatives of conservation and sportsmen’s groups.

Among the ideas in their draft recommendations is using a portion of Vermont’s sales and rooms and meals taxes to generate 7 and a half million dollars in additional revenue.

Jim Shallow of the Audubon Vermont is a co-chair of the task force. Shallow says it’s only fair that some of the money generated by people who enjoy the outdoors be funneled to the department whose job it is to help protect it.

(Shallow) “There’s people that come to Vermont to watch wildlife, birdwatchers, people who hike in our forests, use their canoes on our riverways, and they all spend money in Vermont: they buy equipment, they go to stores, they stay in our inns.”

(Zind) The task force is also proposing that owners of canoes and kayaks buy permits to use public access put-ins on Vermont’s waterways.

The idea of a paddle tax has been controversial in the past.

(Shallow) “I’ve heard mixed reviews out there from individuals, everything from, ‘yea, we’re willing to step up an pay our fair share’ to others who are saying, ‘I don’t thank that’s something I should be doing’.”

(Zind) Other ideas for securing revenue for Fish and Wildlife include multi year licenses for hunting, trapping and fishing and even the sale of lottery tickets with proceeds going to the department.

Shallow says more state money for the Fish and Wildlife Department means more matching federal money.

Evan Hughes of the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs says hunters are concerned they could lose influence with the department once other constituencies are helping to pay the bills. But he says hunting license sales will continue to be a critical source of the department’s money.

(Hughes) “We were concerned, too, that the voice of the sportsman would be diminished by alternate forms of funding. We want the department to also continue to promote license sales.”

(Zind) The task force will hold a public listening session Thursday evening at 7 at the Pavilion Auditorium in Montpelier. The group will likely present its final recommendations to the legislature later this month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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