In an effort to address complaints of overcrowding, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission hopes to cap the number of nonresident hunter tags sold while simultaneously increasing nonresident hunter fees.
Nonresident hunter fees account for 57% of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's license revenue.
"It is obviously a significant part of our portfolio," said Michael Pearson, the IDFG chief of administration. "So in order to offset the impact of less nonresidents (they're proposing) a fee increase. So less nonresidents, but each is paying more."
The proposal has to be approved by the 2020 Legislature and wouldn't take effect until 2021.
"I think the take home here is the commission is trying to provide themselves another tool to try and address this crowding issue," IDFG spokesman Roger Phillips said.
In the 2019 fiscal year, 39,000 nonresidents purchased deer and/or elk tags, while 224,000 Idaho residents purchased tags. The fee increase would include a 10% hike for most nonresident fees with larger increases for big game tags, archery and muzzleloader permits.
A nonresident adult hunting license costs $154.75. A nonresident deer tag costs $301.75 and an elk tag costs $416.75. Under the proposed rule, the commission could limit the number of nonresident tags allotted in any elk zone, or big game unit for deer tags, to at minimum 10 percent of the previous five-year average of all hunters in a unit or zone.
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"Residents were overwhelmingly in favor of this," Pearson said.
Resident fees would not increase. The changes could have drastic impacts on IDFG's revenue.
"Our best estimate is that it could impact anywhere between 10% to maybe even as high as 20% of overall department revenue," Pearson said.
Because the commission has some discretion on how high to set the cap on nonresident licenses, the exact impact on the agency's funding aren't clear.
"The department doesn't have a position on it," Pearson said of the proposal. "The commission wants this. So we provide technical advice. This is being advanced based on the commission's request."
Matt Mimnaugh, a board member of the Spokane-based Inland Northwest Wildlife Council and the chairman of the big game committee, wasn't surprised by the proposed changes. Most states want to promote their hunting and fishing opportunities, he said. But balancing increased nonresident hunting with the needs and desires of resident hunters is "kind of a double-edged sword," he said.
"I don't envy their jobs at all," he said of IDFG staff. "Those are some tough decisions."