State proposing fees to enter Delaware wildlife areas

11dsn DNREC  - CedarSwamp2 by .

Delaware’s Division of Fish & Wildlife is proposing a new access pass for wildlife areas such as Cedar Swamp, along the shore of the Delaware Bay. Under the plan, residents would pay $20 for a yearlong one or $7.50 for a three-day authorization, while nonresidents would pay $30 or $12.50, respectively. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — The Division of Fish & Wildlife is holding workshops this week to discuss proposed fee increases related to hunting and trapping, including the creation of a new fee to visit designated wildlife areas.

Currently, anyone can access the state’s 20 wildlife areas — also known as conservation areas — for free, although hunters must pay to use a blind or deer stand. To address declining revenues, the division is seeking to institute new customer costs, which officials say would allow the state to restore services and make other changes to benefit hunters.

“It would more evenly distribute the cost of managing and maintaining these public wildlife areas amongst all the users of these areas,” division director Dave Saveikis said.

Most costs would increase by about 50 percent or 100 percent. For the new access passes, residents would pay $20 for a yearlong one or $7.50 for a 11dsn wildlife fees chart for web by . three-day authorization, while nonresidents would pay $30 or $12.50, respectively. Junior hunting costs would not be affected, and the deer stand fee would be eliminated.

Wildlife areas remain popular for hikers, photographers, birdwatchers and others looking to enjoy nature, but revenue from hunting tags and permits has been on the downswing for the past eight years.

That is due to a declining interest in hunting, something not unique to Delaware, Mr. Saveikis said. The decrease, brought about by an aging population and exemptions for certain groups, means the division has struggled to continue its level of services, he said.

That’s the motivation behind the proposed changes, which will create a broader base and add stability to the division, he said.

“Hunters and trappers, through purchase of equipment and the excise tax and their hunting and trapping licenses, have basically been the users that have paid for most conservation,” Mr. Saveikis said.

Youth fees were untouched in hopes of promoting recruitment, and to that end, the division is working on developing a mentorship program.

11dsn DNREC  - WoodlandBeach by .

For the new access passes to wildlife areas such as Woodland Beach, residents would pay $20 for a yearlong one or $7.50 for a 11dsn wildlife fees chart for web by . three-day authorization, while nonresidents would pay $30 or $12.50, respectively. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Hunting fees were last raised in 2007, with efforts to do so last year falling short after public outcry. The agency would have increased resident hunting licenses from $25 to $45, resident guide/hunting licenses from $100 to $225, nonresident licenses from $130 to $225 and nonresident guide/hunting licenses from $300 to $525.

Under the new plan, resident hunting licenses would be $39.50, resident guide/hunting licenses $159.50, nonresident licenses $199.50 and nonresident guide/hunting licenses $475.

Mr. Saveikis acknowledged the earlier proposed increases were too high for many people, leading to the push being discarded.

The division’s gap has grown since then, however, and the unit now faces a $700,000 shortfall. In recent years, the agency has left several positions open, reduced the number of days for hunting and cut the hours for the Ommelanden shooting range in New Castle.

State dollars are matched three to one by federal grants, meaning that $700,000 gap actually translates to a potential loss of $2.8 million.

To encourage the public to support the recommendations, the agency plans to expand some hunting and trapping opportunities, such as by adding hours, improving habitats and opening more sections of the wildlife areas.

While people would pay more, they also would get more in return for their dollars, Mr. Saveikis believes.

One of the groups contacted by the Division of Fish & Wildlife to help develop possible solutions to the shortfall was the Delaware Nature Society.

“As a promoter of nonconsumptive users, in general we fully support paying our fair share to ensure these resources are maintained,” said Brenna 11dsn Wildlife spending by . Goggin, the society’s director of advocacy.

However, the organization is not without questions. One of the concerns held by the group is how the new entrance fees would impact programs the society holds at wildlife areas.

The nonprofit often brings several nature enthusiasts to a wildlife area in one van, and Ms. Goggin is unsure whether every person would require a pass or if one for the entire group would suffice.

She said society administrators are also skeptical of expanded hunting, believing it could infringe on non-hunters who visit.

Following the workshops, the Advisory Council on Wildlife and Freshwater Fish will vote on the increases Jan. 26. Due to changes added to this year’s budget bill, authority previously granted to the Division of Fish & Wildlife to raise fees is revoked, meaning the General Assembly must approve any possible hikes.

Exactly how that might work is not yet known. The division and the legislature will have to work out if the changes must go through the chambers as a separate bill and whether a supermajority is needed for passage.

Mr. Saveikis said the agency has received some public feedback, which he described as “all over the place.”

He declined to predict the likelihood of the proposal being approved, noting uncertainty in terms of public reaction still remains.

“There’s a general recognition of our revenue situation and a general agreement that we do need more revenue,” he said. “How it’s obtained is the issue.”

Should the recommendation fail again, the state’s wildlife areas could potentially see some closures, while the shooting range’s availability could be reduced further, Mr. Saveikis said.

The workshops will take place:

• At 7 p.m. Tuesday, in Georgetown, at Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus’ William A. Carter Partnership Center Lecture Hall, 21179 College Drive.

• At 7 p.m. Wednesday, in Dover, at the Kent County Administrative Complex, 555 South Bay Road.

• At 7 p.m. Thursday, in New Castle, at the Ommelanden Hunter Education Training Center, 1205 River Road.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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