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Montana license demand slows

Bull elk with cows
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) officials are considering raising hunting and fishing license fees. The increases are expected to alleviate an anticipated $5.75 million shortfall in the department’s 2017 budget under the current license program. 

Each year, as reported by the Helena Independent Record, Montana offers about 17,000 big game combination licenses and 6,600 deer combination licenses to nonresident hunters. The state sells its big game combination license for $971, its elk combination license for $821 and the deer combo for $575. 

As of this past weekend, more than 1,700 big game combos, around 1,700 elk combos and more than 550 deer combos remained. 

This is the fourth consecutive year that Montana’s nonresident hunting licenses have failed to sell out before the application deadline. The surplus licenses are now being offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and can be purchased online or over-the-counter at any Montana FWP office.

The total undersold licenses amount to more than $3.3 million in potential revenue for FWP. The agency is now facing a $5.75 million shortfall starting in fiscal year 2017. 

To help combat the substantial funding gap, the agency is considering three possible solutions — either alone or combined — as noted on their website. There could be a license fee increase of $8 for hunting and $3 for fishing; cuts to fish and wildlife management operations; or a shift of “earmarked” funds away from specific programs and towards everyday operations. Discounts offered to seniors could also be raised from 62 to 67 years old.

In 2010, a ballot initiative in Montana increased nonresident big game license fees and abolished outfitter-sponsored licenses, but the FWP has not raised resident license fees in nearly ten years. The last increase was 30% in 2005. 

Montana FWP
However, as FWP director Jeff Hagener explained, the last license fee increase did not increase revenue for FWP, possibly because the state offers discounted licenses for a host of hunters such as seniors, handicapped and students. The discounted and free licenses cost FWP millions of dollars. 

The situation has been made worse by the fact that under the new prices in 2011, nonresident licenses undersold for the first time. Though the surplus licenses were eventually sold, in 2012 and 2013, the FWP was left with a number of nonresident licenses. This year’s surplus sales is still to be determined.

Montana FWP is not unique in its situation. Like Montana, Idaho’s nonresident license sales have been on the decline since 2008. Idaho Fish and Game was considering a 20% license fee increase for residents after its sale of nonresident tags fell short, costing the department $3.5 million. Wyoming Game and Fish, after being denied a 20% license fee boost by its legislature, slashed its budget by $4.6 million. 

Hunters are crucial to FWP because license sales account for more than two-thirds of the agency’s funding, with nonresidents paying two-thirds of that amount.

One of the biggest challenges facing the state is that about one-third of the hunting population does not purchase a license every year. According to FWP’s Justin Gude, increasing license fees could backfire on the agency. Behavioral economics indicate that there are fewer new hunters when license prices increase. 

Also, officials are concerned that a price increase could also impact the retention of current hunters. As of now, though, Montana is below average for resident fishing licenses and all resident hunting licenses except wolf. 

The state’s nonresident hunting licenses are above average for black bear, deer, elk, mountain lion and upland game bird, but below average for moose, mountain goat, antelope, bighorn sheep, turkey, wolf and the majority of fishing licenses.

The solutions to the funding gap will be discussed by Montana’s Legislature beginning in January.


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Charles W. - posted 3 years ago on 11-21-2016 03:18:50 pm

I love the statement by Chad B. Below. 48 wolves in one pack. Did his friend count the legs and divide by 4? 48 wolves counted. Did they stand still while he counted or did they register? Also, he says the wolves are the cause of a lot of the problems. Really? The wolves are causing the non-resident drop in license purchases? It couldn't possibly be because they are being gouged by the state. Oh no! I've heard so many complaints about wolves doing everything from killing off all the elk or stealing babies in the night. It's funny that the Canadian provinces and Alaska don't have this problem.

The problem with the drop in license purchases can be placed squarely on the mismanagement of the legislature and FWP. They spend too much, so they increase the fees. Then, people don't buy the licenses. So, they increase fees again, expecting the trend to stop. Then they just keep losing revenue and the citizens lose their traditions. The FWP is like any other government entity. They spend money like water. They've got a lot of fat cats, new vehicles every couple of years, new equipment every couple of years, people that do very little and sit around and lots of surplus. a couple of years ago, I came up on a FWP person, fast asleep in his truck in the afternoon on a back woods logging road. He almost jumped out of his clothes when I knocked on the window. He's getting paid to sleep in the afternoon? Do they really need to run around in brand new trucks all the time? I've spent a lot of time in the Montana forest and on lakes since 1990 and I've run into exactly one game warden in all that time. They get paid, but I don't see them, unless it's a crew of them seasoning the outside of a building in a state park. Then they're gone. The FWP needs to cut expenses. Please don't tell me that they can't. They need to DECREASE license fees to get more people to buy. It worked for Walmart. Surplus licenses because of ridiculous prices don't pay revenue. That's played out in every state that's increased fees to an outrageous amount.

Or, is that the agenda. Is the state being taken over by Liberals and anti-hunters? That's been happening in all the major cities in Montana. Those cities are going in a different direction from traditional Montana values. More taxes, less freedom. I live near Missoula. That city has changed drastically since 1991. It resembles CA more than MT. There are more Liberals going to Helena all the time. Their influence is felt in decisions such as this, where the sky is the limit for fees. The people in Montana need to take a good look at what is happening to government agencies, their costs, runaway spending and the loss of traditional values and activities. How many areas are now cut off because of green gates? But, they expect you to pay more to be able to hunt less ground. Wrong direction!!

Tom V. - posted 4 years ago on 05-13-2015 07:30:20 am

Try something different , lower the price to account for people's wages and travel cost , In other simple words lower that non redundant price so you sell more license .
California kept raising prices like all democrat run states , their revenues keep going done and down and down, they have about 20% of the hunters buying licenses that they had in 1980 , their cost are way up due to state employee cost and the fact that the govanator took all the hunting and fishing license fees and put it in the general fund .
My sons are U S Marines and wanted to come and hunt here last year , but they could not afford the $971 to hunt elk
Now my sons and myself will be going to Colorado or Utah to elk hunt as a groupe , wish we could here , it might cost me more but in the long run it cost them a lot less
So heck raise the resident fees by double and you will have half the hunters Then you can raise it again and have even less . Seems to me you have some city slicker from California running the FWP as well as this state gov

jeffrey b. - posted 5 years ago on 08-22-2014 05:38:24 pm

when you raised the price in 2011 or was it 2010...many of us stopped purchasing Montanas last tag was 680.....2 years later the math. these animals are not made out of GOLD......dont expect an increase in revenue<MONTANA until you drop that price back cost of living went up with no raises why should yours..... hiring more people ,train the ones you have and you'll save money that way,not rob OUR pockets.....

Chad B. - posted 5 years ago on 08-21-2014 02:52:34 pm
Stevensville, MT. 59870

An outfitter friend of mine counted 48 wolves in one pack last year. The wolf population is causing allot of our issues. My friends from the lower south would like to come up if the numbers were higher and the cost lower. We've even had wolves up on our back patio.

Jack O. - posted 5 years ago on 08-21-2014 04:28:20 am

The problem isn't that nobody wants to hunt here the problem is tags are a thousand dollars for non resident tags if it's jacked up again less people yet will come hunt the eastern side of the state is ell known for monster bucks but between disease and bad winters it is now very poor hunting very few deer to be found and the word is out

aaron h. - posted 5 years ago on 08-20-2014 09:59:33 am
windsor, Colorado

well the price is too high for non resident hunters, too many other western states are priced lower. How is the wolf problem in Montana? maybe that affected the hunt numbers. The price of hunting big game is getting too high. Some guys will stay in their own state or they will only hunt every few years. i bet if they lowered the price they would sell some more tags.