CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is raising concerns about the idea of providing free hunting and fishing license to various groups in West Virginia.
The Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources Subcommittee examined two measures during an interim meeting in Charleston Monday.
One bill would provide free hunting and fishing licenses to West Virginia veterans. The other similar bill would extend free hunting and fishing privilege to volunteer firefighters.
“One of the largest problems facing volunteer fire departments in the state is recruitment and retention of members so this would be another opportunity and added value service to entice people to become members or keep their membership,” said Frank Hartman of the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association.
Veterans groups were equally supportive of the idea for those who have served in the U.S. military.
Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel told committee members however, when complimentary license are handed out, his agency is left with a reduction in funds to properly manage fish and wildlife resources in the Mountain State.
“I think every veteran in West Virginia should have a free hunting and fishing license, the same for first responders, all are noble causes. But about 50 percent of us in here pay for hunting and fishing license every year and that’s who pays for those free licenses,” explained McDaniel.
Personnel from the agency gave a presentation to members of the subcommittee about the costs and consequences of free license offers to various groups. The majority of DNR funding annually comes from federal excise taxes paid on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. A separate excise tax is paid on fishing tackle and motorboat fuel. The agency explained both programs called the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act for game management and the Dingell-Johnson Sportfish Restoration Act for fishing. Everyone pays the tax, but revenue from the tax is apportioned back to each state based on the number of paid hunting or fishing licenses sold annually. Each free license reduces the figure and thereby negatively impacts the drawdown of federal money.
According to McDaniel the DNR’s budget for the current fiscal year is $63 million. However, only $15 million is from direct license sales, the rest is from various federal matching programs. A very minimal amount of money for the DNR budget is generated from the state’s general revenue funds.
“We support hunting and fishing license for veterans, but we’ve got to find a way to adequately fund that,” McDaniel said.
He suggested one solution would be to allow veterans or first responders who purchase a hunting and fishing license to write off the entire cost as a one time checkoff on state income taxes.
“It’s $805 for a lifetime hunting and fishing license, if you give veterans an income tax credit to take that off at the end of the year, it’s a one time deal and its done,” he said.
The solution would allow vets a free hunting and fishing license, but would also count as a paid for license to help drawn down federal excise funding.