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Feature Article: California License Fee

Editorial: California license fee reform: Do it now!

Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Nov 22, 2019

After years of opposing efforts to reform California’s costly and antiquated fishing license system, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has embraced a national R3 movement (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation) that aims to increase sales and revenue. DFW’s new-found religion is born from necessity because declining hunting and fishing license sales have crippled DFW’s budget. License revenue that once accounted for 40 percent of their annual budget has dropped to about 20 percent.

Until recently, DFW never examined why license sales decreased over 55 percent since 1980, despite the state’s large coastline and numerous lakes and rivers. Does it make sense to offer licenses that expire on Dec. 31 each year, no matter when purchased? And why does the state use a Price Deflator Index formula that essentially operates on auto-pilot, increasing hunting and fishing license fees every year? So, is anyone surprised that California is among the most expensive states in which to hunt and fish, and license sales are declining?

Now is the opportunity for change. DFW is expected to release its final R3 plan, a plan developed in partnership with California’s leading hunting and fishing organizations who closely examined what other states are doing to increase participation rates and license sales and generating new revenue for their wildlife agencies.

Wildlife agencies must provide outdoorsmen greater value, and wildlife agencies need the authority and flexibility to change their program’s offerings and price based on current market conditions, just like a business would do.

Once the R3 recommendations are released, Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) will incorporate them into Assembly Bill 1387 (365-day fishing license), legislation sponsored by the California Sportfishing League (CSL). Since the bill has already passed the State Assembly, it could move quickly through the Legislature to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk by 2020.

Political observers believe that this plan is achievable, provided DFW stands fast with California hunters and anglers. However, we are fearful that entrenched bureaucrats at DFW will be overly cautious, rejecting the wise counsel of its R3 stakeholder group and other trailblazing states. We hope this is not the case. No half measures will save California’s failing licensing program.

So, we encourage DFW to be bold if it’s going to develop real and lasting reforms that will also benefit California communities and industries dependent on outdoor tourism for economic activity and jobs. Such ambitious reforms could serve as a model for the rest of the nation. This could be DFW Director Chuck Bonham’s positive legacy.

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