Getting the Biggest Bang (or Splash) For the Buck
You take out your wallet, pull out some cash or plastic, and pay
for this year’s hunting and fishing license. As you slip the
new license into your wallet, you might wonder a moment about it.
Why do you even have to have a license to hunt and fish? After all,
you can do a lot of other fun things without any license at all.
What exactly does the $33 average cost that you paid for this license
actually pay for? Most importantly, what value are you getting for
To answer these questions, let’s step back in time a bit.
When the early immigrants first came to the New World from Europe
, they were seeking freedom of many sorts. It is not commonly appreciated
that one of those was the freedom to hunt and fish. In Europe , hunting
and fishing were exclusive rights of aristocrats, because fish and
game were the property of landowners, not the property of the people.
The early settlers were determined that things would be different
here. Since those days, fish and wildlife in the United States have
been the property of the people, no matter on whose land they might
Of course, different thinking about the ownership of fish and wildlife
also required different thinking about their management. If the landowner
privately owns the wildlife, the landowner must pay for a private “gamekeeper.” If
the public collectively owns these resources, then the public must
collectively pay for their management. So, historically, how have
we decided who should pay and how much?
Well, the answer to the “Who pays?” question didn’t
exactly come right away. Things had to get pretty bad before we dealt
with these issues. That happened by the beginning of the 20th century,
when many fish and wildlife species had been so decimated by habitat
loss and unregulated harvest that action had to be taken to restore
their numbers. Unfortunately, it was too late for some species. Hunters
and anglers took the lead in wildlife restoration, lobbying for the
establishment of hunting and fishing licenses and, later, federal
excise taxes on sporting equipment, with the revenues dedicated to
wildlife management. User-supported funding of fish and wildlife
management through license fees has been a tradition for almost a
century now. So that is the reason we have hunting and fishing licenses,
and the general answer to where your $33 goes. The current prices
for resident hunting and fishing licenses were set in a bill passed
by the legislature in 1988. It was strongly supported by the very
sportsmen who would pay the fees.
All West Virginia hunting and fishing license fees go to the Division
of Natural Resources and by law must be used for fish and wildlife
management principally benefiting hunters and anglers. License revenues
comprise 58 percent of the total revenues available to the DNR for
fish and wildlife management. Federal excise taxes are the second
largest revenue source at 22 percent of total revenue. Thus, about
80 percent of the Division’s revenues come from sportsmen continuing
the fine tradition of user support for management activities. Only
about 5 percent of revenues for wildlife management come from state
How is your license revenue spent? State law mandates that 40 percent
be used for wildlife law enforcement activities, 40 percent for biological
How The Money Is Spent
•40%- law enforcement
•40%- biological wildlife
•10%- capital improvements
and land purchases
10 percent for capital improvements
acquisitions, and 10 percent for Division administration. Let’s
relate that to your $33 average license cost. About $12 will be
spent for wildlife law enforcement to maintain an average of two
conservation officers in each of the state’s 55 counties.
Another $12 will be spent for biological wildlife management, subdivided
as follows. About $6 is spent for hands-on management of game species
on public lands and regulatory management of game harvests on all
private lands. A comparable $5 will be spent for fisheries management
on public lakes and all of our rivers and streams, as well as the
operation of state fish hatcheries. Another $1 will be spent protecting
fish and wildlife habitat by coordinating with other agencies and
About $6 of your $33 will be spent for capital improvement activities
the DNR’s most popular, including buying public
hunting lands, developing fishing and boating access sites and building
rifle ranges. The final $3 is spent for DNR administration activities
necessary to the proper functioning of the Wildlife Resources and
Law Enforcement sections.
Are you getting good value for your license
fees? Well, consider that the $33 you just spent is only 3 percent
of the $1,100 that the U.S. Bureau of Census says you spend on average
each year to hunt and fish. That’s less than the sales tax
you pay on the other
expenditures combined! Consider what your $33
bought just last year:
· Assurance that conservation officers are out in the field
protecting your resources from those who don’t want to play
by the rules.
· Habitat and population management of game on 1.4 million
acres of public lands and population management of game on 14 million
acres of private lands across the state.
· Fisheries management to provide good fishing for you and
your kids in 21,000 acres of public lakes and 31,000 miles of rivers
· Protection of your fish and wildlife resources and their
habitat from activities that would diminish them.
· Over 3,000 acres of new wildlife management areas, 12
new angler access sites, two improved rifle ranges and two new fishing
Does that seem like a good value to you? When you think about it
that way, I’ll bet that $33 piece of paper you just slipped
into your wallet never looked like a better value. Indeed, it’s
real bang (and splash!) for your buck!
Steve Brown is a wildlife planner stationed in Elkins.