January 29, 2023

New Hampshire Has Funding Shortages. Special Meeting Scheduled

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Next Wednesday, February 7, 2007, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission will hold a special meeting at the Fish and Game headquarters in Concord. The meeting is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and is open to the public. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss upcoming legislative issues facing the department.

I e-mailed Liza Poinier of the New Hampshire Fish and Game to find out if there was a particular reason for scheduling a special meeting prior to the regular one set for February 21. This is what she said.

The special meeting is because there wasn’t enough time during the last regular monthly meeting to give these issues full consideration; and they didn’t want to wait for the February meeting, because things are moving so fast

Also with a little help in directions from Liza, I headed over to the NHFG website to take a look at some of the upcoming legislative proposals. Many of you already know that New Hampshire faces a shortfall in revenue to keep them afloat. They are looking at ways to better fund Fish and Game. I’ve addressed this issue before at the Black Bear Blog and have also contributed some ideas to the department of ways to deal with this.

One proposal deals with Fish and Game taking a portion of the lodging and meals tax revenue.

In New Hampshire, there is an 8% tax assessed upon patrons of hotels and restaurants. After the Department of Revenue Administration covers its costs, 40% of the revenue goes to municipalities and 60% goes to the General Fund. In 2005, the total Rooms and Meals tax revenue disbursed to the General Fund was $115 million. Based on the 2001 survey, 7.4% of this total, about $8.5 million, can be attributed to hunting, angling and wildlife-related recreation. Fish and Game is proposing to request a small portion — 4% of those dollars currently disbursed to the General Fund — for a total of $4.6 million dollars.

This would only seem a reasonable request however, greed is greed and when the general fund has been reaping the benefits of dollars generated through recreation, I have an idea Fish and Game is going to have a difficult time collecting any of that money.

Here’s another proposal.

Require a conservation decal to be displayed on canoe and kayaks used on inland and coastal waters, thereby broadening the base of people who would pay for maintaining access opportunities to all our public waters. Funds raised would also support wildlife management activities, wildlife viewing and education programs.

Pay to play, that’s what most of us do. What hurts with this proposal is that there is a lot of overlap. In other words many people who hunt, fish, trap and pay for the licenses, also use canoes and kayaks. Perhaps there would be a way of assessing a fee to those who only use specific areas and are currently paying nothing for the benefit – a difficult proposition at best.

Here are several more for you to look over.

Establish a saltwater license. This proposal would generate new license dollars, providing user funding for Fish and Game’s management of marine resources. In addition, it would help Fish and Game identify saltwater anglers, something now required by the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act. The proposal would be reciprocal in nature (any state saltwater recreational fishing license would be honored by adjoining states and federal waters) and address the concerns of party or charter boat owners. As with freshwater fishing licenses, marine recreational licenses could be purchased online, and a one-day license option is being considered.

Combine the black bear, moose, turkey and waterfowl fees into a single dedicated Game Management Account which would fund all current activities, reduce administrative overhead and contribute to the Fish and Game fund.

Create one fall and spring turkey license with a resident fee of $15 and $30 for nonresidents; and convert the migratory bird (waterfowl) stamp to a license, thereby eliminating a portion of the administrative costs associated with this program.

Authorize 5 moose permits to be auctioned annually, as is done in Maine and Vermont.

Provide $200,000 in General Fund dollars to fully pay program expenses for Search and Rescue operations. Fish and Game currently gets funds for search and rescue through a $1 surcharge on each private boat, OHRV and snowmobile registration. On average, this annual revenue is $190,000, but the cost of search and rescue is $220,000. 89% of the missions involve people who do not contribute to the search and rescue fund.

Increase the General Fund contribution for the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program from $50,000 to $350,000, to provide a required match for federal funds.

Return more of the unrefunded gas tax to support Fish and Game’s OHRV and snowmobile program. Currently, the unrefunded portion of the road toll from OHRVs and snowmobiles goes to the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), based on average number of gallons of gas consumed of 50 gallons per year. We propose to increase the average number of gallons to 100 and to divide the unrefunded portion between Fish and Game and DRED.

While most of these ideas make sense, there is bound to be big opposition from special interests and those believing their budgets will be shrunk and/or power taken away. Looking down through the list pretty much plays into the ideas I have submitted in the past with the exception of one thing. I propose a major overhaul of not only New Hampshire’s but many states so-called fish and game budgets.

The Fish and Game Department has morphed into a giant too big for its own good with much of the burden of paying for it falling on the shoulders of license buyers. More and more responsibilities have also been dumped in their laps with little or no money to fund it. Fish and game departments need to go back to doing what they are supposed to do, managing fish and wildlife and providing for the public to be able to hunt, fish and trap.

Search and rescue as well as policing off-road vehicles needs to be a law enforcement issue and managed and enforced by state and local police departments. The list of all this goes on.

What has happened over time is there are more and more people hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, boating, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, bird watching, etc., etc. who are not paying their share. License buyers cannot provide the funding for all the rest of the outdoor enthusiasts. Their demands are too great with no funding to meet those demands. Most all of these pastimes should not be funded by fish and game.

Many of these proposals in New Hampshire would provide a temporary funding problem but in the long haul, I believe a restructuring of departments and interests is overdue.

Tom Remington