Cost of bill to lower buck limit could be steep

CHARLESTON. W.Va. — Legislation aimed at lowering the number of bucks hunters in West Virginia can kill from three to two would come with a hefty price tag. It’s the conclusion of fiscal analysts who examined the potential financial impact of the bill. Beyond changes to the structure of deer management, House Bill 2984 also proposed considerable increases in license fees.

The increased costs could potentially result in dramatic reductions in the Division of Natural Resources’s Law Enforcement Section. Analysts project the agency would be forced to eliminate 11 full time Natural Resource Police Officer positions in the state. The impact would also result in a reduction of trout stocking and maintenance of Wildlife Management Areas and public boat ramps in West Virginia.

Those projections are contained in the bill’s fiscal note compiled at the request of lawmakers. The note estimated a substantial loss in license sales and federal aid dollars for West Virginia’s DNR. The summary section of the note read:

“We estimate this bill would result in the loss of more than $1.76 million annually in hunting license sales. In addition, $806,840 in Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration funds would be lost. Revenue collections from sales tax are estimated to decrease by over $3.7 million per year, as 53,789 hunters no longer generate more than $63 million in economic activity through their failure to purchase food, lodging, transportation, and equipment associated with hunting.”

Accounting analysis provided to the legislature on the changes estimated the $1.76 Million loss is based on the following:

–An estimated 34 to 48 percent of current resident hunters will stop buying a license due to the projected cost to jump with the legislation between 110 and 153 percent

–An estimated 55 percent loss of non-resident hunters in West Virginia with the cost of the license increasing anywhere from 110 to 213 percent

Those estimates are based on what happened in 2006 when the price of a base license increased by 64 percent. During that year the number of resident hunting license declined by 20 percent. During the 2006 license increase the cost of a non-resident hunting license went up by 10 percent and the non-resident license sales dropped by 5 percent.

It’s further projected House Bill 2984 would cost the state of West Virginia more than $800,000 in federal aid. Often called the Pittman-Robertson Act, states receive a share of a federal excise taxes charged on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. A state’s share of those funds is based in part on its total number of licensed hunters. The fiscal analysis of the legislation’s impact estimated the number will drop substantially because 53,789 people will no longer buy a West Virginia hunting license.

Experts further estimated the state’s sales tax revenue will take a hit from the bill’s impact as well to the tune of about $3.7 Million.

You can read the Fiscal Note of HB 2984 here.

The bill currently sits in the House Natural Resources Committee. Committee Chairman Jason Harshbarger (R) indicated on last week’s edition of West Virginia Outdoors he had no plans to run the bill this session. He said it was introduced to facilitate discussion about deer management after he and other members of the House received correspondence about the idea of lowering of the buck limit.

The buck limit and the proposed license fee increase is expected to be a topic of discussion at this Sunday’s quarterly meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. During the meeting, the DNR’s Wildlife Section will present the proposed 2019 season dates and bag limits for hunting.

The meeting is 1 p.m. Sunday at the DNR headquarters in South Charleston.

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