By MEGAN DURISIN
Capital News Service
LANSING – A new bill would increase hunting opportunities by annually auctioning off five bear and elk licenses.
Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, the primary sponsor and vice chair of the House Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Committee, said the aim is two-fold.
“We’re trying to find a way to help lower the licensing fees for those in state,” Stamas said. “We’re also trying to promote the state and the hunting aspect of Michigan.”
Money raised from the auction would go into the state’s game and fish protection account.
Other sponsors include Reps. Tim Moore, R-Farwell; Richard Ball, R-Bennington Township; James Bolger, R-Marshall; and Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.
Stamas said the auction would be open to both state and out-of-state hunters. Currently, elk hunting licenses are available only to Michigan residents.
However, Stamas said the proposed bill wouldn’t take anything away from Michigan hunters.
“More hunters apply for bear and elk than there are licenses available each year,” Stamas said, and he would like to keep in-state fees low.
Stamas said he didn’t know how much money the state could raise from the auctions, but a similar auction in New Hampshire for five moose permits raised more than $32,000 for its Wildlife Heritage Foundation in 2009.
Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, chair of the committee, said he doesn’t believe there will be sufficient support for the bill.
“The vast majority of the hunting crowd don’t like the idea of auctioning off licenses to the highest bidder with the most money,” Sheltrown said, “especially in Michigan where there are lots of struggling families.”
Richard Smith, a member of the Michigan Bear Hunters Association from Marquette, said bear hunters don’t support the bill, either.
“The current bear licensing system is excellent,” Smith said. “Everyone who applies can get a license in a reasonable amount of time without having to put a price tag on it.”
Smith said the association favors the current licensing system, and he opposes elk licenses being auctioned to out-of-state hunters.
“Michigan bear and elk belong to residents of the state and are supposed to be managed for residents of the state,” Smith said. “I hope the bill does not pass because it would be poor management of our wildlife resources.”
Dave Nyberg, government and public relations manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the MUCC supports creative efforts to promote hunting and increase revenue for game and fishing protection. However, the organization opposes the auction of big game species hunting licenses.
“Selling permits to the highest bidder is an issue MUCC does not support,” Nyberg said.
The DNRE uses a lottery system to issue elk licenses. For every year that hunters unsuccessfully apply for a license, they receive an additional “chance” for the following years. Applicants who win a license have their chances reduced to zero and aren’t allowed to apply for another elk license for at least 10 years. Bear license applicants also get a preference point for each year they fail to draw a kill tag.
Still, Nyberg said the state should market its hunting opportunities to people in other states, and he likes the bill’s intent to increase participation in Michigan hunting.
Nyberg said MUCC has asked government officials to promote hunting and fishing more heavily in the Pure Michigan advertising campaign.
“The billboards you see for Pure Michigan are mostly focused on golfing or laying at the beach, which are great activities as well,” Nyberg said. “But Michigan has one of the highest amounts of hunting and fishing licenses in the country.”
The proposed bear and elk license auction would not be the first time Michigan has used a raffle to promote hunting.
The former Department of Natural Resources launched the Pure Michigan Hunt last year, in which the winners of a drawing can purchase a hunting license for every restricted hunt in the state, including an elk, bear, spring turkey, fall turkey and antlerless deer license.
Any hunter can buy one or more $4 applications to enter the contest annually.
“It’s a great promotion of Michigan hunting and fishing and quite successful,” Nyberg said.
Mary Dettloff, public information officer for the DNRE, said the department doesn’t support the bill.
“The way we provide opportunities now for hunters gives everyone a fair shot,” Dettloff said.
Dettloff said the department appreciates Stamas’s efforts in finding creative ways to generate more revenue, but prefers opportunities like the Pure Michigan Hunt because it’s a lottery system.
According to the DNRE, bear licenses cost $15 for residents and $150 for non-residents. In the 2009 bear drawing, 39,169 eligible applicants applied for 11,473 bear licenses.
Elk licenses cost $100 and were much more limited, with a quota of 110 in 2009.
The bill is pending in the committee.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.