Part of my weekly computer time routinely includes browsing the websites of the Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission, DCNR and others to keep abreast on what these agencies are doing and for possible story ideas.
During one of those sessions last week, I noticed the Fish and Boat Commission had posted the agenda for its next quarterly meeting scheduled for Jan. 22-23. Most of the time, the list of items to be covered at a Fish and Boat Commission meeting is about as exciting as watching paint dry, but as I read the outline for this one, three proposals struck a nerve for me.
Before I discuss those, however, let me say that as a lifelong fisherman and hunter, I have always been willing and proud to pay my share for the conservation of our natural resources through the purchase of all the various licenses, permits, stamps and other fees required to participate in the outdoor sports I love so much.
As I have often pointed out, hunters and anglers here in Pennsylvania pay the lion's share for conservation because our Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission are independent agencies that receive no general tax dollars and are funded almost entirely by hunting and fishing license dollars.
Only about 10 percent of Pennsylvania residents buy hunting or fishing licenses in any given year, which means the other 90 percent of Pennsylvania citizens contribute little or nothing to conservation in our state.
Over the past 20 years, the numbers of hunting and fishing license buyers have steadily declined, and as depressing as that sounds, that trend shows no signs of reversing. That means fewer and fewer of us are expected to foot the bill for conservation at a time when the obligations and costs of doing so are higher than ever. But at some point, enough has to be enough.
It becomes painfully obvious that our model of "independently funded conservation agencies" is woefully obsolete, if it ever really worked at all. Yet, those who administrate each of those "independent" bureaucracies steadfastly cling to that model and the idea that we are right and 49 other states are wrong for letting all their citizens chip in a little for conservation. And for decades now, we've continually heard them bemoan the fact that they are broke while seeking to wring more and more money from fewer and fewer license buyers.
That brings me back to the proposals to be considered next week by our Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Currently, Pennsylvania residents 65 and older can purchase an annual senior fishing license for $11.70 or a lifetime senior fishing license for $51.70, which represents a good deal for those who plan to continue fishing past age 70.
In order to fish for trout, a senior lifetime license holder need purchase only one trout/salmon permit for $9.70 or a combination trout/salmon Lake Erie permit for $15.70. One proposal to be considered this week would require all folks who buy a senior resident lifetime fishing license from now on to continue to buy a trout/salmon permit each year, something that would cost senior citizens another $48.50 to $78.50 over five years.
Here is the exact language regarding this scheme from the official PFBC meeting agenda: "According to the Commission's report 'Stocked Trout Program: Cost Report' (March 2009), the Commission's trout program accounts for 36 percent of the Fish Fund annual expenditures, and the cost of trout production continues to rise. The Commission can no longer afford to allow anyone required to purchase a senior resident lifetime fishing license to fish for trout without paying for the privilege to do so annually.
The tone of that entire statement strikes me as colossally arrogant. So the PFBC can't afford to have a bunch of freeloading senior citizens fishing for trout? I wonder if the pinheads who thought that up considered most of those folks probably purchased as many as 49 full-price fishing licenses to support the cause from the time they were 16 until they reached 65.
The PFBC's own estimates indicate that requiring lifetime license holders to buy a trout permit each year would net the agency about $330,000 a years after five years. That's not going to put much of a dent in the cost of their trout program which costs about $13 million annually and continues to hemorrhage money. The whole scheme is shameful and disgusting.
While they're socking it to the seniors, the PFBC also has a plan to pry some money from kids as well with a $1.00 voluntary youth fishing license. Let's look at that one. Even though young person under 16 can fish without a license, fewer kids are fishing now than in previous years, so let's charge them to fish and they'll start fishing. Yeah, right.
The scheme here is the PFBC would be reimbursed $5 in federal revenue under the Sport Fish Restoration Act program for each of the voluntary licenses sold and could amount to almost $500,000, all of which would be used for more youth education programs. Forget that in 1995 41 percent of youths ages 6 to 15 fished in Pennsylvania; in 2005, it was down to 37 percent, and by 2010, only 24 percent. Yeah, let's throw more money down that rabbit hole.
For some reason now lost in obscurity, Pennsylvania is the only state that requires anglers to wear their fishing licenses. Our Game Commission thankfully did away with that silly requirement a few years back, but the fish folks still think having a license certificate flapping in the breeze is just a swell idea.
And now, they have even figured a way to jack a few more bucks on that situation. Starting sometime next month, the PFBC will be selling buttons that you can wear instead of the license itself. What an alternative. I hope they have "STUPID" printed on them somewhere.