- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is proposing to increase hunting, fishing and trapping fees for the first time in more than a decade as it tries to shore up a perennially strained budget.

The most common fees would go up by $10. For state residents, fees would go to $43 for a fishing license, $31 for a hunting license and $54 for a combination license. For the first time, hunters and anglers over age 68 would have to buy a $10 license. Non-residents, who already pay more, would also pay $10 more for most permits.

“I don’t have a problem with it really,” said Linda Brownson, a hunter for the past 45 years who runs the Sacred Paw guide company in Wentworth. “I know they have to do something. Their funding has been slashed just unbelievably. Quite honestly, I don’t think the fees are that high anyway.”

The fees haven’t gone up since 2003.

“The expenses of the department have just outstripped the revenue from the flat fee of the hunting and fishing licenses,” said Evan Mulholland, legal coordinator for the department.

Jason Parent of New Hampshire Guide Services in Errol knows the hike is necessary but worries that people who hunt using several methods, fish and trap will get crushed by the multiple increases. Guides like him will see their license fees jump, too, from $59.50 to $100.

“You start pushing people away from the sport,” Parent said.

Parent, who also is a state representative, said the department should consider other changes to control costs - such as getting more out of non-sportsmen to pay for search and rescue operations - while pressing the legislature for a share of the rooms and meals tax revenue.

The state took in $6.9 million from fees in 2014; with the proposed increases, revenue would increase to $8.3 million.

When fees last went up in 2002, the state saw a 7 percent drop in the number of licenses, and Mulholland said the department anticipates a similar decrease this time. The revenue increase will make up for the loss, he said.

“We don’t want to raise fees,” he said. “We want to democratize hunting and fishing and make it available as much as possible, but we’re sort of forced into it.”

The Fish and Game Department has four public hearings scheduled on the license fees; the first is set for Thursday night in Lancaster.

Brownson, the Wentworth guide, spent years hunting and guiding in Texas, where a lot of the hunting is done on expensive private lands, compared to the free, public lands used here.

“We have a bargain here in New Hampshire, we really do, and I think we really need to take stock of that,” she said.

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