The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission presented their annual reports to state lawmakers on Wednesday. Both agencies have seen increased costs, but haven’t seen an increase in license fees for several years.
At the annual hearing before the House Game and Fisheries Committee, executive director Bryan Burhans said the game commission faces immense challenges from wildlife diseases. He said chronic wasting disease, fatal to deer and elk, threatens Pennsylvania’s hunting heritage and the $1.6 billion industry tied to hunting.
“To ignore this disease will lead to one certain result: CWD will increase in prevalence and spread throughout the state,” Burhans said. “When CWD prevalence rates get too high, it is unlikely we can ever turn the clock back.”
Burhans said West Nile virus continues to impact the state bird, the ruffed grouse, and he said three species of cave bats have been decimated by white-nose syndrome since it first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2008.
The agencies do not receive state funding and are supported mostly by license sales to hunters and anglers. Those license fees are determined by the state Legislature.
The last hunting license fee increase was in 1999. The last fishing license fee hike was in 2005.
Fish and boat commission executive director Timothy Schaeffer told the panel that while fish license and boat registration fees have remained stagnant, costs continue to rise.
“We truly believe that allowing the commission to incrementally adjust its own pricing will lessen the sticker shock for anglers and boaters that come with a larger increase every 10 to 15 years,” Schaeffer said.
Two options are on the table. The Legislature could pass bills giving each commission the authority to set its own license fees, or it could approve incremental increases over the next several years.
“Both of those agencies, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, are professional agencies,” said state Rep. Keith Gillespie (R-York), the committee chair. “They’re not going to price themselves out of the market, and they know where they need to direct those resources to and how to manage it.”