Rising fees may raise hunters’ ire

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 25, 2000

AP and staff reports

FERRIDAY, La. – &uot;It’s like a civil war across our borders.&uot;

That is how Homer Hewitt, avid hunter and owner of Hewitt’s Archery and Pro Shop, described a Mississippi commission’s decision to raise non-resident hunting license fees just weeks after Louisiana decided to raise its fees.

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&uot;It’s sad,&uot; Hewitt said. &uot;(Louisiana) raised fees to keep our wildlife areas open, but it looks like (Mississippi) is doing it just to get back at us.&uot;

Mississippi’s Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks voted Wednesday to raise fees for Louisiana hunters and fishermen to a level equal to what Mississippians must pay for equal privileges in Louisiana.

The fee increase applies only to Louisiana.

More than 14,000 Louisiana hunters bought $225 all-game hunting licenses to hunt deer in Mississippi last year. Under Wednesday’s action, they’ll have to pay $425, the amount Louisiana raised its fees to this year.

The vote was in response to public outcry in Mississippi. ‘We’ve heard from hundreds … of our residents who were upset about the dramatic fee increases they face in Louisiana,” said commission vice chairman Harry McArthur of Hattiesburg. ”They wanted us to hit them back, and get their attention. I think this will.”

Louisiana officials announced fee hikes in June to offset a projected $9 million wildlife budget shortfall. That raised costs for the 20,000 Mississippi anglers who buy Louisiana fishing licenses each year.

Louisiana license fees also increased for in-state residents. &uot;And sportsmen said they would pay those extra fees if it meant the wildlife areas would stay open or be improved,&uot; Hewitt said.

&uot;That was for a purpose.&uot;

In retaliation for Louisiana’s nonresident fee hike, the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources raised from $67 to $110 the price of a nonresident season saltwater license, although the raise has not yet taken effect.

McArthur said many Mississippians have camps in Louisiana and do not mind paying the $110 saltwater license fee.

”But what hurts is when they take a guest for a weekend and the fee is now $70 instead of the $20 they had to pay in the past,” McArthur said.

The wildlife commission also agreed not revisit the issue until Louisiana lowers its fees.

James Patton, the undersecretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, was at Wednesday’s meeting in Jackson.

”There is room for us (Louisiana) to lower the fees,” Patton said. ”I know it will be part of the discussion at our Sept. 7 meeting.”

Patton said the fee increase was necessary in Louisiana because of shortfalls in other revenue producing areas.

The financial impact will be minimal this year for Mississippi’s wildlife agency.

”Under our regulatory process, they still have 60 days to buy 2000-2001 licenses at current prices,” said Sam Polles, director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. ”There’s nothing we can do about that.

”But, if they don’t change, then next year, their residents who hunt here will have to pay. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Let’s hope they lower their fees.”

Hewitt said that &uot;dyed-in-the-wool&uot; hunters like himself will probably sacrifice in other areas and save all year to be able to afford to buy Mississippi licenses.

&uot;That takes away money from them and their families that could be used for other things,&uot; he said.

&uot;But what it’s really going to hurt are the day hunters. In the end, it’s going to probably hurt Mississippi’s tourism and take revenue away from the state.&uot;