Hunting, tourism groups support hike to Nebraska permit fees
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Hunters and anglers in Nebraska might have to pay more for permits under a bill endorsed Wednesday by sporting groups, conservationists and the tourism industry.
The groups argued during a legislative hearing that the measure would help the Game and Parks Commission pay its operational costs, which have risen because of private land donations and the growing popularity of trails and outdoor recreation.
The measure by Sen. John McCollister of Omaha would increase the caps on various fees the commission can charge under state law.
McCollister said most of the caps have been in place since 2003, and the commission’s activities generate significant economic benefits for the state. Last year, 87 percent of the commission’s funding came from user fees, while 13 percent was appropriated by the Legislature.
“The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is a treasure in this state,” McCollister said in testimony to the Natural Resources Committee. “The people who use it pay for it. When they pay, they must cover the cost of the services, or the services cannot be provided.”
The bill drew support from a diverse array of groups, including the Nebraska Travel Association, the Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Nebraska Wildlife Federation and Audubon Nebraska.
But it could face roadblocks. Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has tangled with the commission before, warned the committee that he might try to amend the bill as part of his longstanding quest to ban Nebraska’s mountain lion hunting season.
“I’m going to stop these hunts by any means necessary,” Chambers said.
Under the bill, the maximum fee for annual resident hunting permits would rise from $13 to $18. The fee cap for annual fishing permits would increase from $17.50 to $24. The maximum cost of a combined hunting and fishing permit would increase $10, to $39.
For nonresidents, the commission could charge up to $106 for an annual hunting permit instead of the current $80 maximum. Annual fishing permits for nonresidents would cost as much as $66 instead of the current $49.50.
The bill would generate an estimated $2.5 million in the fiscal year that begins on July 1 and nearly $5 million the following year if the commission raised all of the affected fees to their new maximums. The commission has a total budget of about $98 million.
Jim Douglas, the commission’s director, said the commission’s private foundation contributes an average of $1 million a year, but most of that money is used for infrastructure rather than operations. The Legislature also approved more than $3 million annually for deferred maintenance projects in 2014, but Douglas said that money is committed to large projects.
Douglas said the commission hasn’t been able to complete maintenance work on the 8,000 picnic tables, 6,000 grills and 350 miles of gravel roads in the state park system.
“This would be critically important for us to continue to serve the citizens of this state,” Douglas said.
Nebraska Travel Association lobbyist Andy Pollock said the state’s parks and recreation areas are critical to Nebraska’s tourism industry and benefit the whole economy.
“It ripples through our communities,” he said.
The bill is LB745