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SALT LAKE CITY — Record levels of inflation have resulted in a number of rising costs across Utah in recent months, most visibly being the state's record-high gas prices.
However, inflation may also result in rising hunting and fishing permit fees in the near future.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on Tuesday unveiled a plan to raise the cost of most of its resident fees by at least 10%, though the changes would not take effect until 2023. It would be the largest fee increase since 2014, according to Kenny Johnson, the division's administrative services chief.
"(In) recent years, inflation has begun to outpace our revenue growth," he said, in a video outlining the fee increase plan.
Under the proposal, most fees will increase:
- Fishing and hunting licenses would increase from $34 to $40, almost an 18% hike.
- A general season deer permit would increase from $40 to $46, or 15% more.
- A general season elk permit would increase from $50 to $56, or 12% more.
- A turkey hunt permit would increase from $35 to $40, or 14% more. Swan and sandhill crane permits would also be set at $40.
- A fishing and hunting combination license would jump from $38 to $44, a 16% increase. There would be a $1 discount for all multi-year and extended permits.
- Most other permits would see an increase ranging from 10% to 12%.
- No increases are proposed for youth or veterans with disabilities seeking hunting or fishing licenses.
If the plan is approved, some of the largest fee increases would be for nonresidents, though. For instance, nonresidents would have to pay $670 for deer permits at Cooperative Wildlife Management Units, up from the current rate of $398.
Johnson explains that 92% of the division's operations are "self-funded," so nearly all of its hunting and fishing-related programs depend on licenses to continue. The remaining money comes from the state's general fund, though that money is typically granted toward projects, or "specific things," that impact everyone in the state, not just hunters and anglers.
He said that the division's budget had remained balanced since the last major fee raise in 2014, adding any revenue growth remained close to inflation rates over the course of nearly a decade.
"We've been really fortunate to not need a resident fee increase in almost 10 years," he said.
But that started to change as the U.S. began to experience high levels of inflation starting last year. It increased 7.5% in 2021 and remains a little over 8% this year. The Associated Press reported last month that Mountain West states have been hit particularly hard, as consumer prices jumped to 9.8% in April compared to April 2021, and remained at 9.4% of costs in May.
These rising costs are why the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is now facing an "ongoing need" for $5 million more in its licensing revenue to help cover expenses for possibly the next four or five years, Johnson said. These include the cost of labor, goods, service, fuel, equipment, credit card fees, ongoing maintenance, fencing, general supplies and technology services.
"We've seen all of those steadily increase over (the last few months), as well," he said. "So, we're proposing a modest fee increase to help us address our needs now and what we anticipate for several years into the future. ... We believe our license structure and fees are fair and help balance participation costs from the public with healthy fish and wildlife populations on the ground."
But it may take some time before Utah anglers and hunters notice the fee changes. All of the division's proposed fees will have to go through a complex process before they are approved.
The Utah Wildlife Board must approve it first. It's then up to the Utah Legislature, including the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox to approve the changes before anglers and hunters will see the fee increases. Johnson anticipates that any approved changes will likely take effect at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, 2023.
Utahns will have until the end of Aug. 18 to submit comments online regarding the division's plan. There are also a series of regional advisory council meetings scheduled between July 26 and Aug. 4, where the proposal will be discussed. The Utah Wildlife Board is scheduled to meet on Aug. 25, where they may vote on the proposal to send it forward to Utah's elected leaders for final approval.