- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - That paper fishing and hunting license will soon be as old school as fishing creels and metal deer tags.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is taking steps to go paperless, and this is the last year the owner of a bait store or gas station will be able to sell licenses not printed off a computer.

It’s also the last year county auditors will serve as the middleman by getting licenses from the department, issuing them to vendors, collecting the sales revenue and passing it along to the department.

A state law passed in 2013 requires licenses to be sold electronically starting April 1.

This year, the Legislature took county auditors out of the middle and said vendors will work directly with the department starting that same date, according to The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1FQoPpZ ).

This adds up to the biggest licensing change in decades, according to Randy Meissner, licensing manager, who said he hopes the 400 vendors in North Dakota who handle licenses will hang in there so people who don’t feel comfortable going online or come from out of state will continue to have easy and convenient access.

It will mean vendors must have computers and printers and, as of now, only about 100 of the vendors print online licenses for their customers, he said. The rest are still filling out paper licenses.

“Paper will go away. We’re not worried about fewer sales, because people here are passionate about hunting and fishing. We are worried there will be people who will be inconvenienced or upset because there won’t be the access they’ve had in the past,” Meissner said.

Meissner’s department will be sending letters to vendors this summer, encouraging them to gear up with the necessary computer equipment.

“It’s not as scary as they think it might be to get online,” he said. “We like people to get a license however they choose.”

Carla Borlaug, general manager of the Tesoro station in Hazen, said the business still writes the paper licenses and likes its vendor status because sportsmen and women will pick up soda, bait or other supplies while in the store.

She said they’ll make the transition.

“We’re going to want to continue to have that service for our customers at the counter, so we’ll have to figure something out,” she said.

Vendors can charge 50 cents for every license they handle, either electronic or paper, but, for many, including Borlaug, it’s about getting the business traffic, not the small license handling fee.

The online option isn’t new.

People, including vendors, have been able to buy hunting and fishing licenses online through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department since 2001.

Over the years, that’s become an increasingly popular option, and, today, more than two-thirds of all licenses are purchased online, or about 200,000 of the 290,000 sold, according to Meissner.

Even so, the remaining 90,000 paper licenses still cause a lot of busy work for county auditors, who handle an average of 3,000 paper and online license sales in most counties and as many as 17,000 in Burleigh County.

“It was getting to be an accounting nightmare,” Meissner said.

By shifting sales directly through the department’s online site, the department also will be able to more quickly access seasonal data.

When it wants to know how licenses are sold during pheasant season, it will have real-time data, instead of waiting until March 31 each year for county auditors to complete tallies and reimbursements.

“Anything that closes, when it’s done, we’ll have that data instantly,” Meissner said.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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