September 9, 2005
COMBINED HUNTING, FISHING AND TRAPPING LICENSES
By: Paul Frisman, Associate Analyst
You asked about the feasibility of issuing a one-time combination hunting, fishing, and trapping license for veterans and people over 65. You wanted to know if other states have issued such licenses, what federal laws might apply, and how such a program might be structured. You also asked about the revenue and cost impacts of such a license. The Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) examined the impact of eliminating annual license fees for veterans. (Senior citizens are already eligible for free hunting and fishing licenses.) We have included their response.
According to a national study, 32 states offer some type of lifetime or one-time fishing, hunting or combined license. (The study did not specifically examine trapping licenses).
Much of the information in this report is taken from that study, “U.S. National Lifetime License Investigative Study,” (attached) published April 21, 2003 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and provided by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. We crosschecked the study's findings against the web sites of the various states.
Lifetime license programs vary widely. Some states offer discounted lifetime licenses to senior citizens. Others charge seniors the same lifetime rate as other hunters and fishermen.
None of the 32 states offers a combined lifetime license for veterans and senior citizens. A check of the websites of the 32 states indicates four states (Maine, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia) include trapping in their lifetime license programs.
The Washington study includes specific recommendations for creating a lifetime license program in that state. These recommendations include:
● setting the price of lifetime licenses at the expected value of the revenue stream for annual license payments;
● adjusting fees every five years;
● heavily marketing the lifetime license;
● providing it only to state residents, at least initially; and
● tracking actual license use by requiring lifetime license holders to annually obtain a free license card.
Issuance of a lifetime license would generally affect two federal laws: the Sport Fishing Restoration Act (also known as the Dingell-Johnson Act) and the Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson Act). These programs distribute federal funds to states based on a state's land and water area and number of licensed fishermen (Dingell-Johnson Act) or its land area and number of licensed hunters (Pittman-Robertson Act). Revenues for the programs comes from federal taxes on the sale of sporting arms, handguns, ammunition, and archery equipment (Pittman-Robertson Act) and rods, reels, and other fishing tackle (Dingell-Johnson Act).
In general, the sale of lifetime licenses typically causes fewer annual license sales, which could lead to a loss in federal revenue from these programs. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service therefore considers lifetime licenses in its calculations, based on license holders' statistical life expectancy. But, according to the Fish & Wildlife Services' Dee Mazzarese, Connecticut's federal share of the revenue from these programs would not be affected because Connecticut, like other small states, receives a guaranteed minimum percentage of the available funds from each program. However, Mazzarese says that any decrease in state license revenue could affect Connecticut's ability to fund the required 25% state match under both programs.
OFA estimates the elimination of annual fees for veterans would result in a significant revenue loss to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
STATES OFFERING LIFETIME HUNTING OR FISHING LICENSES
The Washington survey found that the following 32 states offered some type of lifetime hunting or fishing licenses: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska. New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. However, the Indiana program ended July 1, 2005 (see discussion, below).
The programs vary widely. The lifetime fee can be the same for all age groups, or vary by age. For example, Arizona charges different fees for five different age ranges, beginning with people younger than 13 and ending with those 62 and over. Maine offers lifetime licenses only to residents younger than 15 and older than 65.
Georgia and New Hampshire are among the states that provide senior citizens free lifetime hunting or fishing licenses. Both the amount of the senior discount and the age at which people become eligible for the senior discount vary. In California, for example, a lifetime senior hunting or fishing license costs $370.50 for people 62 and older, compared to $548 for those between the ages of 40 and 61. In Oklahoma, a lifetime hunting license costs $225 for people over 60, compared to $625 for other adults. But hunters over 64 in Oklahoma can obtain a less comprehensive lifetime hunting license for only $6.
New Hampshire offers free permanent license to people over 68. In Georgia, people over 60 can get reduced fee licenses, while people over 65 can get them for free. Maine offers reduced fee lifetime licenses to people over 65, with the price dropping in subsequent years through age 70.
According to the Washington study, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina offer a separate, lifetime rate for veterans. However they offer these licenses only to disabled veterans, and, in Iowa's case, former prisoners of war. Nebraska offers a free license to veterans who are not disabled. However, to be eligible Nebraska veterans must (1) have served in particular wars or campaigns and (2) be at least 65 years old.
STRUCTURING LIFETIME LICENSE PROGRAMS
License fees in the 32 states were determined either by the legislature or by using actuarial tables to determine the revenue that would be lost when a customer bought a lifetime license instead of a series of annual licenses. Nearly all states deposit lifetime license revenue in an interest-bearing account maintained for the sole purpose of fish and wildlife management.
The study found that 52% of the states experienced a revenue increase after implementing the lifetime license, with 36% experiencing a drop in revenue. It found that lifetime license sales did not significantly affect annual license sales. Most states said they made changes in the programs after they began, such as raising or reducing fees and changing license requirements.
Advantages of Lifetime Licenses
The Washington study found several advantages of establishing a lifetime license. These include:
● allowing a customer to hunt, fish or trap during his lifetime;
● protecting customers from future price increases;
● creating a positive relationship with customers; and
● providing the state with a stable source of income.
Concerns About Lifetime Licenses
The report also identified some concerns, including:
● the costs of operating a lifetime license program;
● its effect on annual license sales;
● the need to track lifetime license holders for purposes of federal reimbursement;
● the difficulty of changing the requirements of a lifetime program once established; and
● problems of dealing with lifetime license holders who move out of state.
Recommendations on Implementing a Lifetime License Program
The study recommended ways to avoid the drawbacks of a lifetime license program. These include:
● restricting lifetime licenses to residents, at least initially;
● charging a fee equal to the expected net present value that would have been received from the customer's purchase of a series of annual licenses;
● requiring lifetime license holders to obtain free annual license cards so that the state could track the number of people actually using the licenses; and
● updating fees frequently.
STATES THAT DO NOT OFFER, OR NO LONGER OFFER, LIFETIME LICENSES
According to the study, six states decided not to offer lifetime licenses after studying the issue. Among the reasons they gave was the cost of implementing the program, the difficulty of enforcing residency requirements, and the possibility of the state using license fee revenue for other purposes.
The study found that a few states, such as Michigan and Utah, had offered lifetime licenses, but stopped doing so. These states said they ended their programs because they did not sell the desired number of licenses.
As noted above, Indiana ended its program this year. We spoke with Greg McCollam, of Indiana's Division of Fish and Wildlife, about the reasons Indiana stopped selling lifetime licenses.
Indiana's Experience with Lifetime Licenses
According to McCollam, the state ended the program, which it began in 1983, because it was losing an estimated $3.6 million in annual license fees. For example, the comprehensive hunting and fishing license replaced not only annual hunting and fishing licenses, but all other yearly licenses, stamps and species-specific permits. Holders of these licenses not only avoided the annual fees in place when they bought the lifetime license, but all subsequent fee increases. According to figures McCollam provided, Indiana had 17,000 lifetime comprehensive holders, each of whom avoided a total of $114 in annual fees. He said about half the deer hunters in the state were either lifetime license holders or were exempt from annual license fees.
CURRENT CONNECTICUT LAW
Connecticut senior citizens (age 65 and over) are now eligible for a free firearms, fishing, hunting or combination license. But they still must obtain required annual permits, stamps, and tags (e.g. deer permit or migratory bird stamp). To qualify, a senior citizen must have lived in the state for at least one year, or lived in New York or in a New England state if that state grants the same exemption to Connecticut residents (CGS § 26-28). There is no veterans' discount.
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION LICENSE PROGRAM
Ed Parker, Chief of the DEP's Bureau of Natural Resources, notes that hunting and fishing license sales in the state have gradually declined. DEP figures show it sold 43,052 combined hunting and fishing licenses to state residents in 2002. That number dropped to 40,733 (a 5.4% decrease) in 2003, when the annual fee increased from $21 to $28, and to 39,656 (a further 2.6% drop) in 2004. Parker says that as licensed hunters and fishermen age, more will become eligible for free senior citizens licenses, further reducing the number of annual licenses sold, and DEP's revenue from those licenses.
Parker said it would be difficult to include trapping licenses with a comprehensive hunting and fishing license because few of the necessary trapping courses are given each year. (DEP sold 363 trapping licenses to state residents in 2004, compared to 10,513 firearms hunting, 102,762 fishing, and 39,656 combined firearms, hunting, and fishing licenses.)
Finally, Parker says DEP is preparing to seek proposals to create an automated licensing system, which will give DEP a better data on which to formulate a license fee policy.
FISCAL IMPACT OF ELIMINATING ANNUAL LICENSES FOR SENIORS AND VETERANS
According to OFA's Elyse Gittleman, the elimination of annual fees for the various DEP hunting and fishing licenses for Connecticut veterans could result in a revenue loss to the DEP Conservation Fund of approximately $1 million a year. This estimate assumes that veterans over 65 already receive their free licenses, and 20% (32,000) of the veterans under 65 (estimated at 160,000 based on 2000 census data) will be issued the licenses, which they would have previously paid for annually. Municipalities would also incur a revenue loss since town clerks retain $1 for each license sold. Currently, hunting and fishing program licenses generate over $5 million annually; approximately $2 million is deposited into the General Fund, and approximately $3 million is deposited into the Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund pays programmatic and administrative costs of the departments various conservation related programs. This revenue loss would have a significant impact on agency programs.