The regs and money, then and now

This past weekend my son and I went up to Plumas County in the Sierras to shoot some video for a TV show. Our host was California Fish and Game Warden Bob Orange, a third generation game warden, and the second generation to serve in Plumas County.

Bob introduced us to scores of deer including a 5x5 and a 4x4, a bear, bald eagles, spawning kokanee salmon and gorgeous scenic sights. Thank God some things never change.

Around the fireplace, Bob pulled out some hunting and fishing regs for 1931-32 when the Orange first got into the warden business. Back in the "good old days" of the Great Depression, the limit on deer was two bucks a year per person, there was no season for predatory animals including bear, the daily limit of ducks was 25, the daily limit of geese was eight, the daily limit of quail and doves was 15, you could take 25 trout a day, and there was no limit on crabs (male only) or abalone.

Sounds pretty good, although there were no open seasons on elk, antelope, mountain sheep, grouse, wild pheasant, wood duck, tree squirrels or sturgeon, which today now all offer seasons. The fact that there are open seasons on all these species is a mark of progress in wildlife management.

Aside from the fact that all the state hunting and fishing regs in 1931-32 could be printed on newspaper page (as opposed to about 100 pages of regs per sport today), what especially caught my eye in these economic times was the cost of licenses. Resident licenses then were $2 for adults and $1 for juveniles. A deer tag was $1. A resident fishing license was $2.

"What about inflation!" you exclaim.

According to the great oracle Wikipedia, $100 converted from 1930 to 2005 is equivalent to $1,204.42. So according to that 12-fold increase in prices, a hunting or fishing license today should be $24.

Today as I walk into my local sporting goods store to purchase a 2009-10 hunting license, the cashier tells me $41.20 for a basic license, $17.85 for a California duck stamp, $15 for a federal duck stamp, and $8.40 for an upland game bird stamp. When they ring up that total it comes to $84.95. That's a lot more than the overall rate of inflation.

But that's not all. If I want to hunt waterfowl on a state or federal refuge, a one-day pass is $17.50 and a two-day pass is $29.95, a first-deer tag is $27.55 and a second deer tag is $34.40.

A California Resident Fishing License is $41.20. It's an additional $19.70 for an abalone card, and $6.30 for a steelhead report card.

There are more fees, but I think you get the point. More details at dfg.ca.gov/licensing.

I don't even want to venture into the costs for non-resident hunters and fishermen. That requires an accounting firm.

Admittedly this is cash-strapped California. Fortunately, the grass is greener elsewhere.

In Alabama you don't need a license to hunt on your own land and residents 65 or older and servicemen and women don't need a license either. In Kentucky a resident license is $20, state duck stamp is $10, and two-deer permit is $30. A Michigan small game resident license is $15, senior license is $6, and a deer resident license is $15.

I could go on. The point simply is that if you want to keep people hunting, don't tax them to death with license fees. Give seniors, kids and servicemen and women a break.

I can hear the nervous bureaucrats worrying about money to replace the monumental losses of lowering license fees. First of all, when you drop the cost of the license, you make it more affordable to more people, so the increased numbers of sportsmen going afield makes up for revenues lost by selling higher-priced revenues.

Natural Resource management, I argue, is only half about natural resources. The other half is about people — serving people. Hunters and anglers are not just sources of money to pay for agencies, they are customers. If customers are unhappy, they will direct their money elsewhere, the business goes under.

The 2008 White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy was held to look for reason why hunting is declining. Look no further than the price tag.

The rising cost of just getting legal to go out, plus the dwindling access to free places to hunt has made hunting a rich man's sport. A friend of mine confides that he is paying about $39 per bird to shoot released pheasants. I can buy four at Whole Foods for that price, and I don't need a license with a stamp.

If you want to raise money to fund the local resource agencies, auction off special licenses. I have sat at the annual FNAWS convention and listened to and watched people pay $250,000 or more for a sheep tag. One quarter of a million dollar sheep tag brings in the same amount of money as 3,125 hunters would generate by buying an $80 a license.

One bright spot in California's license is that recently Governor Schwarznegger signed into law AB 1442 that will among other things allow the Department of Fish and Game to offer a "Warden's Stamp," generating funds for under-funded programs that help train and equip state fish and game wardens.

Considering the state of the economy and California's critical shortage of game wardens, this is a step in the right direction, for when times get tough, poaching increases.

The $5 stamp will be sold alongside hunting and fishing licenses is voluntary. It will help fund special equipment for the state's fish and game wardens, help support advanced training and provide some family benefits that the state no longer can afford. That's a stamp I can afford.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.