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Expect Alaska fishing, hunting, trapping fees to leap next year

  • Author: Mike Campbell
  • Updated: December 28, 2016
  • Published November 15, 2016

Anglers, hunters and trappers will fork over more cash next year to pursue their favored critter — in some cases considerably more.

Virtually every Alaska hunting, fishing and trapping license will be more expensive — up to 80 percent more for residents and up to 200 percent more for nonresidents.

About the only ones escaping beefy price hikes are nonresidents buying an annual sport fishing license ($145) and king salmon stamps for both resident ($10) and nonresident ($100) anglers.

Price hikes were part of House Bill 137, which passed during the last legislative session. It's the first time in 24 years hunting license and tag fees have increased and the first time in 10 years for fishing licenses.

"Alaska's new prices are in line with other states," Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said in a press release, adding that they're "significantly less expensive for resident hunters because Alaskans don't pay resident hunting tag fees."

Widespread impact

Hundreds of thousands of Alaskans and outdoorsy visitors will be affected.

• Some 329,000 resident hunting, fishing and trapping licenses were sold in 2015, the last year for which information is available.

• Nearly as many, 306,000, were purchased by nonresidents, who paid $7.6 million more than residents for the privilege.

• All told, sales of licenses, tags and stamps to anglers, hunters and trappers brought in $26.4 million.

Sportsmen and women looking to save money can take advantage of a grace period through the end of this year that will allow 2017 licenses to be purchased at 2016 prices.

The fee increases are expected to raise an additional $9 million for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game next year, according to a news release from Gov. Bill Walker. The increases help offset deep cuts to the department's funding from the state's unrestricted general fund. Last year, the department received $79.3 million from the fund. This year, the budget calls for $66.4 million.

Money collected from anglers, hunters and trappers isn't bound for the state's general fund. Rather, it's used to fund state fish and wildlife management.

Raising fees also will allow Alaska to rake in more money from the federal Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration programs. Federal dollars are matched 3-to-1 by state money, so more state money allows the annual total to grow.

"We've become increasingly unable to match wildlife dollars," said Maria Gladziszewski, deputy director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation. "As hunters and shooters purchased more firearms and ammunition, the dollars available to Alaska from those sources has increased. With not enough state license dollars to match federal dollars, we were at risk of (sending back) federal dollars."

$48 million boost

Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson are funded by excise taxes paid by hunters, shooters, anglers, trappers and boaters nationwide.

This year, the two programs gave Fish and Game a $48 million boost; that's about a third of the entire Alaska Department of Fish and Game budget.

In fact, Pittman-Robertson funds and license sales cover most of the department's wildlife budget, while Dingell-Johnson coupled with license sales pay for most of the sportfish budget.

"The funds have allowed our biologists to ensure that innumerable fish and wildlife species in our state not only persist, but thrive to provide sustainable food resources and recreational opportunities," Cotten said.

In the last eight years, wildlife restoration funds through Pittman-Robertson have grown 108 percent, a jump that Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Brooks attributed to "an unprecedented level of gun and ammo sales at the national level. It's off the charts."

Trump win means decline

However, the Donald Trump victory sent gun manufacturers' stocks into an immediate nosedive, which may have some long-term effect on those funds.

"The stocks are selling off because Donald Trump is a solid gun rights supporter and there are no longer worries about new gun control laws that Hillary Clinton could have pursued," Chris Krueger, an analyst at Lake Street Capital Markets LLC, told the Huffington Post. "This means that there likely will not be a surge in sales at firearms retailers in the coming months."

An array of outdoors and conservation groups including the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Safari Club International and Territorial Sportsmen supported raising the fees.

"Hunters have been doing this (funding wildlife conservation programs) for 80 years, and they're used to it," Gladziszewski said. "They stepped up again, which is awesome."

The Pittman-Robertson Act became law in 1937, when the firearms and ammunition industry asked Congress to impose a tax on their products to help fund wildlife conservation in the country. Since then, some $10 billion has been collected, money that has helped rebuild several wildlife populations. The excise tax is set at 11 percent of the wholesale price for long guns and 10 percent for handguns.

Reach Mike Campbell at mcampbell@alaskadispatch.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten. 

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