Seniors’ fishing fee a hard sell

By Walt Braun

Twenty dollars and 50 cents doesn’t seem like much for an annual Kansas hunting or fishing license. But extending that cost to Kansans 65 and older who have been exempt from paying the fees since 1971, as a legislative bill would do, has sparked quite a little storm.

That’s understandable; no one likes new fees. Not surprisingly, senior citizens and the Kansas State Rifle Association have made their opposition to ending the exemption clear. State Sen. Mark Taddiken, a Clifton Republican who represents part of Riley County, has called passage of the measure “an uphill battle.”

Fact is, though, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and Tourism, whose fish and wildlife programs don’t receive state funding, needs the money. Not only would KDWP benefit directly from the additional revenue, but it would receive considerably more in federal matching funds.

In all, KDWP could gain up to $1.4 million a year; that money could help open more than 1 million private acres to public hunting, fund fish habitat development and fishery management programs and boost other wildlife programs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which tracks hunting and fishing habits nationwide, estimates that as many as 20,000 Kansans over 65 years old enjoy fishing and about 30,000 Kansans over 65 are hunters.

Asking — requiring — folks 65 and older to start paying something in the way of licensing fees is more reasonable than raising fees for younger people who enjoy hunting and fishing. And while the fees would be a hardship on some seniors, they’re a hardship on young folks as well. Besides, for most folks who hunt and fish, the cost of a license is one of their smaller expenses in support of their hobby.

Fortunately, as the Associated Press reports , a couple of promising compromises have surfaced. State Sen. Allen Schmidt, a Hays Democrat, has proposed allowing senior citizens to buy a one-time combined hunting and fishing license. KDWP Secretary Robin Jennison said the fee would likely be about $40.

The other option would involve annual half-price licenses for Kansans 65 through 74 years old. They could buy a hunting license, a fishing license or a combination license. Kansans older than 75 would continue to be exempt.

These proposals give lawmakers options. With a little imagination, they can be finessed, or others can be developed that can help generate the money KDWP needs without overburdening seniors or other Kansans.

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