State Agency Authority to Set License, Permit, and Tag Fees


The first residential hunting licenses were introduced in 1895 and were considered widely successful in creating funds for the newly established state fish and wildlife agencies. Despite having jurisdiction over the fish and wildlife within the state, the overwhelming majority of state game agencies have little control over setting the price of licenses, permits, and tag fees. State fish and wildlife agencies have long been recognized as the primary, and most well-equipped, managers of fish and wildlife in the United States. Staffed by trained professionals these agencies carry out on-the-ground conservation efforts and possess a clear understanding of their states’ conservation priorities. They are in the best position to effectively manage fish and wildlife on behalf of the public and implement recruitment, retention, and reactivation programs.


The first clear system of residential hunting licenses did not appear in the United States until 1895, with the state of Michigan issuing a 50-cent license for hunting deer. The success of this program prompted many states to follow suit, and by the early 20th century, newly created state fish and wildlife agencies were issuing licenses across the country. These licenses, sold and enforced by state game agencies, were designed to generate funding for the agencies to sustainably manage wildlife populations. Since their inception, there have been debates on how to price these licenses and who should set their price. Despite having jurisdiction over the fish and wildlife within the state, the overwhelming majority of state game agencies have little control over setting the price of licenses, permits, and tag fees. Rather, the authority often rests with the state legislature, requiring new legislation each time the state needs to change the fees in order to keep up with inflation. This process makes it difficult to increase license fees to effectively manage fish and wildlife on behalf of the public, often resulting in sudden, large price jumps when fees are finally increased after many years.  

Points of Interest 

  • Four states (AL, CA, CO, NC) have legislative language linking license fees to consumer price indexes.[1]
  • The Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop Breaux acts limit state license revenue to only be used for management and restoration of wildlife,[2] funding aquatic education, wetlands restoration, boat safety, clean vessel sanitation devices, and angling and boating access, in addition to fisheries and habitat management.[3]
  • State fish and wildlife agencies are funded primarily (in some cases nearly 100%) by the American System of Conservation Funding.[4]
  • By granting price setting authority to state agencies, with legislative overview, or by allowing small, incremental license fee increases concurrent with cost of living indexes, states can avoid large, sudden jumps in license fees which can be a deterrent to participation.


The following legislation gives the respective state more flexibility in adjusting license fees. Please contact CSF for the specific language of these bills or for more information. 

  • Alabama Section 9-11-68: The state’s Director of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources may, with the permission of the Commissioner of the department, submit a recommendation to the Advisory Board of Conservation and Natural Resources to increase both license fees and issuance fees for the license, based on the percentage increase of the consumer price index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). This increase, if approved by the board, is then submitted to the Chair of the Legislative Council for the Legislative Council’s review and approval.
  • Colorado 33-4-102: Nonresident big game fees will be adjusted annually in accordance with the consumer price index for the Denver-Boulder-Greeley consolidated metropolitan statistical area. The adjustment is only brought into effect after the commission notifies the joint budget committee of the adjustment.
  • North Carolina Section 113-270.1B: ”No rule to increase fees above January 1, 2015, levels may increase a fee in excess of the total increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers over the period of time since the last fee change.” 

Moving forward 

Elected officials should examine who has the authority to set license fees in their state, and consider opportunities to improve the process of changing those fees when necessary.


For more information regarding this issue, please contact Nick Buggia, 517-260-6437,

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Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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