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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published January 18 2013

House bill to increase boating, fishing registration fees would generate $5.85M

BISMARCK – North Dakota outdoorsmen are willing to come to the rescue of the state’s Game and Fish Department as its reserve fund is running out.

The department has been deficit spending, or using reserve funds, since 2009 due to an array of issues while flooding and unusual weather decreased wildlife populations and the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold. The department relies on license sales for 56 percent of its revenue.

House Bill 1130 would increase all license fees by 10 to 20 percent. It got its first hearing Friday in front of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. With an amendment included to increase fishing and boating registration fees, the increases would generate about

$5.85 million over the coming biennium.

Mark Mazaheri, an avid hunter and fisherman from Fargo, said the department needs the additional funding to continue supporting the nationally recognized Game and Fish staff and outdoor recreation areas.

“I’m coming to you today to say take my money and do something good with it,” Mazaheri said. “Just tell me what it’s going to cost,” he said later.

Rep. Kurt Hofstad, R-Devils Lake, said the fund is at a point where it can no longer be tapped.

The Game and Fish Department will have, on hand, about $23.9 million at the end of the 2011-13 biennium on June 30. Without the increase in fees, the department’s fund would be about $15.5 million by June 30, 2015.

Currently, North Dakota law requires the department to keep a $15 million balance in the fund. If it has to dip into the fund, it needs approval from legislators.

“They find themselves in a conundrum unless we increase revenues,” Hofstad said.

Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said the department does have sufficient reserve funds to carry it through the next biennium. But the department is managing more fishing waters with aquatic nuisance species threats, inflation has caused problems and managing the department’s 1 million acres of private access hunting is costly.

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