- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

My friend Garvey Winegar, the outdoors editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, is worried about the financial affairs of his home state.

Last week he wrote, “When the [Mark] Warner administration tried to balance the state budget, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries — the state agency that watches over fish and wildlife in Virginia — experienced quite a whack of the budget ax, same as other departments and agencies.”

Winegar and tens of thousands of his fellow outdoors men and women were upset because the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) pretty much has paid its own way with hunting and fishing license sales and boat registration fees, so it should have been left alone. But it wasn’t, and now that the cuts were made, the DGIF is trying to recoup some of its lost income.

Said Winegar: “A method approved for additional study [by a] citizen board of the game department is user fees, or access fees, to land purchased over the years. This land — most of it in the form of Wildlife Management Areas across the state — is used by hunters in fall and anglers all year. After all, it is they who paid for the property through license sales. But all land, including Wildlife Management Areas, owned by the game department is open to the public at no cost. Total acreage is close to 192,000 acres.

“Birdwatchers, hikers, canoeists, bikers, windsurfers, horseback riders and happy wanderers increasingly make up a substantial portion of the public that is using land and lakes to which they have donated not one nickel.”

You already know what the next step will be. The state’s General Assembly has given permission to charge for admission to hitherto free access areas, although a $3 day-use fee might be waived if you possess a hunting or fishing license.

There are recommendations for certain park and state lands user fees, with exemptions also granted to boaters. A state fish hatchery fee of $3 would once again permit the public to visit.

In the case of new user fees, should anyone slip in without paying, the fine could run as high as $150, and that money would be given to the DGIF’s Game Protection Fund.

The biggest worry, of course, is once you open the door to user fees (which are taxes any way you slice it) there will come another year when those fees will be hiked and hiked again. It has happened with the federal migratory waterfowl stamp that not that long ago cost $3 but now runs five times that amount and many other such fees.

Worse yet, if Maryland sees this it will begin to think. The little state is among the most skilled in the land when it comes to emptying the billfolds of its citizens.

Hatchery visitor center closed — Effective Immediately, Maryland’s Cedarville Fish Hatchery visitor center (located in the Cedarville State Forest in southern Prince George’s County) will be closed to the public. Many Department of Natural Resources publications mention the Fish Hatchery Visitor Center as an attraction when referring to Cedarville State Forest.

Western Maryland deer changes — The Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service will hold two public meetings to discuss proposed changes in deer hunting regulations for Region A (Garrett, Allegany and western Washington County). Changes would become effective in the 2004-05 hunting seasons.

Currently, hunters in Region A can shoot two antlered deer during each bow, firearms, and muzzleloader season. But the state wants to lower the total harvest of antlered deer. Deer project leader Doug Hotton said, “Desired outcomes for Region A are a deer population in balance with the habitat and a measurable increase of antlered deer in the older age classes.”

The first meeting will be Nov. 4 at Frostburg State University in Dunkle Hall, room 218. The second meeting will be held Nov. 5 at Hancock Middle-Senior High School on Route 144 in Hancock. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m.

Try venison for health — The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reminds us that venison has nearly one half of the calories and five times less fat than an equivalent serving of beef. Incidentally, state wildlife biologists expect this year’s deer harvest to exceed 240,000 as West Virginia’s herd expands and hunting regulations are more liberalized. Over the years Mountaineer hunters have donated more than 388,000 pounds of venison to feed the state’s hungry.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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