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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published January 18 2013

ND considers increase to hunting, fishing fees

BISMARCK — Mark Mazaheri was a senior in high school when North Dakota last increased the cost of a deer hunting license, the now 47-year-old Fargo man told state lawmakers Friday as he spoke in support of hiking the fees.

“I'm not asking for your money,” Mazaheri said. “I'm asking you to take my money and do something good with it.”

The state Game and Fish Department is asking for a 10 to 20 percent increase in hunting, fishing and boating fees to maintain services and increase habitat. Mazaheri, who told lawmakers he's “just another guy who likes to hunt and fish,” said they should increase the fees even beyond what the agency is asking for.

Others from sporting groups across the state also supported raising fees at least at the level requested by the Game and Fish Department, which regulates hunting, fishing and trapping, manages land and promotes conservation.

No one spoke against the agency's proposal Friday.

Agency Director Terry Steinwand said license sales and fees have not kept up with inflation, and some haven't been raised in more than 30 years. The proposed fee increase would raise about $5.8 million over the next two years, he said.

The agency receives no money from the state's general fund. It is supported by state licensing fees and federal tax money from the sale of firearms, ammunition and other sporting equipment.

“We have not kept pace with the states around us and have become the bargain basement place to hunt and fish for nonresidents,” Steinwand said. “This is one of the prevalent complaints we hear from resident sportsmen — that we welcome with open arms nonresidents with our fee structure but other states protect their resident sportsmen.”

Steinwand said state law requires the department to maintain $15 million in reserves and that sum could be reached in 2015 if fees are not increased. The agency increasingly has been dipping into its reserves to improve such things as public hunting access and to maintain hatcheries and fishing waters, he said.

The state also is losing land to crop production, as acres increasingly are being taken out of the Conservation Reserve Program, a federal program that pays landowners to idle land for conservation and wildlife habitat.

Bill Helphrey, a spokesman for the North Dakota Bowhunters Association, said his group strongly supports increasing fees for the agency. He said the number of licenses have decreased because of poor hunting conditions in the past three years.

Michael McEnroe, a Wildlife Society spokesman and a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, also urged lawmakers to increase licenses fees and funnel some of the revenue toward more game wardens and other staff to monitor potential impacts on wildlife from oil development.

Foster Ray Hager, who represented a hunting group in Casselton, supported raising fees at least 20 percent for residents and 30 percent for nonresident hunters. He said out-of-state pheasant hunters in particular get a bargain in North Dakota.

“They can hunt the whole season for $7 a day,” he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.