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Rep. David Day objects to new hunting, fishing permit hikes
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Nov. 13, 2008) — State Rep. David Day doesn’t like a proposal by the Missouri Conservation Commission that would require owners of less than 80 acres to pay for the privilege of hunting deer and turkeys on their own land, and is asking his constituents to contact the agency during a public comment period that begins on Nov. 17 and ends Dec. 16.

“I definitely don’t think the increase in landowner permits is appropriate,” said Day, a Dixon Republican.

“Right now if you own five acres of land, you can hunt on your own land for free,” Day said. “The understanding was if you own the land, you are feeding the wildlife; to me, 80 acres is a huge jump. We’ve got a lot of landowners with five and 10 and 20 acres and they should be able to hunt on their own land.”

Other changes proposed by the Missouri Conservation Commission at its Sept. 26 meeting include increases of $2 to $3 for the majority of hunting and fishing permits and creation of a Senior Forever permit for citizens 60 years of age or older. Young hunters and fishers will also get price breaks, according to a press release from the Missouri Conservation Department, and the changes won’t go into effect until 2009. Non-resident fee increases are larger, according to the press release.

Those who want to file comments may do so online at http://mdc.mo.gov/regs/permitfaq.htm or write Missouri Department of Conservation Director John Hoskins at P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

Day said he believes the proposal to increase fees is badly timed, but there’s not much the legislature can do because the Department of Conservation is mostly funded by a 1/8-cent sales tax approved by voters years ago and its budget isn’t under legislative control.

“I think it sends a wrong message, and certainly in the economic times we have, it is totally unneeded,” Day said. “I have received a number of calls and emails from people who are concerned. The way the conservation commission is set up in the state of Missouri, the legislature has no control over it. They are an independent commission and they make their own decisions, and the 1/8-cent sales tax that was voted in cannot be touched by us.”

Eric Kurzejeski, the outreach programs chief for the Department of Conservation, said he’s been part of an 18-month process to develop the fee restructuring program as a member of the department’s internal permit restructuring working group. Kurzejeski noted that the proposal doesn’t call for all fees to increase and even those that would increase haven’t been raised for five years.

“There were 17 recommendations that came out of the effort,” Kurzejeski said. “A main part of the recommendations was a half-price permit fee for youth and a dramatic reduction in price for seniors that was tied to our charge to simplify the fees and encourage more people to hunt and fish.”

Kurzejeski noted that the fee study began long before this year’s hike in gas prices and resulting economic problems, and noted that Missouri hunting and fishing permits are less expensive than those of many other states.

“A lot of this timing had nothing to do with the current economic situation,” Kurzejeski said. “And we want to make sure Missouri stays in the lower range of permit fees.”

A Missouri Conservation Department press release noted that 40 staff positions have recently been cut in the department, but Kurzejeski said the permit fee restructuring wasn’t primarily intended to deal with financial problems but rather to maintain services.

“It’s not just to make up some shortfall, by any means, in the budget,” Kurzejeski said. “In the last five years, there have been no increases in our permit fees. Our budget has not grown, and we have been going backwards in our budget.”

While the acreage increases for landowner permits have drawn considerable fire, Kurzejeski said it’s actually a return to earlier practices in Missouri.

“We have to look back at the history of the landowner permits,” Kurzejeski said, noting that they began in 1944 with a rule that they were given only to “bona fide farmers” and at one point required landowners to have 75 acres of land and be residents on that land.

Residency requirements were waived and acreage requirements were reduced over the years, he said. In 1984, Missouri changed its rules to allow people who own five acres of land to hunt bucks but not does; in 2003 that was changed to allow hunting of any deer. But landowners can still get the free permits only to hunt on their own land, and those who want to hunt anywhere else still have to buy a regular permit.

“That was done in response to considerable concern about growing deer numbers and a desire to enlist landowners in controlling those numbers,” Kurzejeski said. “We had general agreement that five acres is probably too small.”

Half or more of the people who obtain free landowner permits also obtain regular hunting permits, Kurzejeski said, and that factored into the decision to increase the acreage requirements.

Kurzejeski emphasized that the Missouri Conservation Commission members, as well as department staff members, take public opinion seriously. There’s no guarantee that the proposal will be adopted and those who comment will be listened to, he said.

“Our agency prides itself on getting public input and listening to public input,” Kurzejeski said.

Day agreed, and noted that public comments may have more impact than comments by elected officials.

“They do not need our permission or blessing as legislators to do very much,” Day said. “I’m not trashing them; I think the conservation department does a very good job of managing wildlife in Missouri. I just don’t think this increase is needed with our current economic condition.”

“I’ve sat on different boards and commissions for the state of Missouri over the years where we asked for public comments, and the ones we asked on, we paid a great deal of attention to that,” Day said. “There may be people who support these changes and if so they need to let that be known. But if there are people who feel these changes are fairly drastic, they need to let the conservation commission know.”

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