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 when the state of Michigan issued 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, and who should, price these licenses. Despite having jurisdiction over the fish and wildlife within the state, the overwhelming majority of state fish and wildlife agencies have little control over setting the price of hunting and fishing licenses, permits, and tags. Rather, the authority often rests with the state’s legislature, requiring new legislation each time the state needs to change the fees to keep up with inflation. This process makes it difficult to increase license fees to ensure that they maintain pace with inflation and that the agencies are adequately funded so they may effectively manage fish and wildlife on behalf of the public. This often results in sudden, large price jumps when fees are finally increased after many years.
Points of Interest
- Five states (AL, AR, CA, CO, and NC) have legislative language linking license fees to consumer price indexes.
- The Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson/Wallop Breaux acts limit state license revenue to only be used for management and restoration of wildlife, funding aquatic education, wetlands restoration, boat safety, clean vessel sanitation devices, and angling and boating access, in addition to fisheries and habitat management.
- State fish and wildlife agencies are funded primarily (in some cases nearly 100%) by the American System of Conservation Funding.
- By granting price-setting authority to state agencies, with a legislative overview, or by allowing small, incremental license fee increases concurrent with the cost of living indexes, states can avoid large, sudden jumps in license fees which can be a deterrent to participation.
- Through legislation in 2020, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission was authorized with the regulatory power to set license, permit, and tag fees through 2025, and in 2023, H. 1409 was proposed to extend this authority through 2035.
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 per 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 above the total increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers over the period of time since the last fee change.”
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.