ROANOKE — If West Virginia’s natural resource officials ever want to change the state’s hunting and fishing license structure, they now know how much people will be willing to pay.
At the May 31 meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission, Division of Natural Resources officials learned the results of a $117,000 study conducted by Southwick Associates, a Florida-based research company.
The DNR commissioned the study to learn how hunters and anglers feel about the state’s game and fish regulations, and to get an idea of the privileges they would expect if the state’s hunting- and fishing-license structure needed to be changed.
In the first part of the study, revealed last year, agency officials learned that a slight majority of hunters favor a reduction in the bag limit for buck deer from three to two. The second part — the part revealed at the commission meeting — focused on how to restructure license privileges and fees to minimize revenue loss if the buck limit were to change.
Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, summarized the options.
He told commissioners that the most popular current license, the so-called “sportsman license” that combines hunting and fishing privileges, would become a money-loser if a two-buck limit were implemented.
“It would result in a decline of license sales and revenue,” he reported.
A better alternative, he said, would be to create a “super sport license” another hunting-fishing combo, that would include two either-sex deer tags. It also would include a trout stamp, which isn’t offered in the current sportsman license.
Southwick said his researchers polled hunters and anglers as to how much they would be willing to pay for such a license.
“We didn’t just ask how much they would pay, because human nature is to put forth a lowball figure,” he added. “Instead, we gave them five options.”
The options started at $36 and went as high as $54. According to the report, the $36 price point would result in a net revenue loss of $414,190 to the agency.
“At a $41.50 price point, the agency would get a slight revenue gain,” Southwick said. “If we were to recommend a price, we would recommend $45. That seemed to be acceptable to the people we surveyed.”
A $45 super sport license would provide the agency with an estimated gain of $387,888 in its first year, according to the report.
Another option the survey explored was the sale of any-deer, any-season stamps versus the current season-specific stamps. Southwick said that if those stamps were offered at the current price of $21, the agency would lose money.
“There would be a slight drop in revenue,” he told the commission. “If you raise the price, you increase revenue but lose buyers. If the goal is to reduce the harvest, it would be worth looking at. If the goal is to increase participation, it wouldn’t be.”
Southwick said another option would be to offer hunting and fishing licenses that would be good for three years instead of one.
“Three-year licenses are a definite winner,” he added.
Some other states that have instituted multi-year licenses offered slight discounts to hunters and anglers who chose to make the switch. Southwick recommended that West Virginia not offer any discounts.
“No discounts or incentives are necessary [because hunters and anglers will have] reduced transaction fees and increased convenience from buying a license once every three years,” he said.
One problem DNR officials face every year is “churn,” hunters and anglers who buy a license one year but don’t the next. Southwick told the commission that the three-year licenses would reduce the state’s churn rate, and might actually help boost participation because sportsmen would want to get full benefit from their three-year investment.
Before and after Southwick’s presentation, DNR officials pointed out that the agency has no existing plans to change the state’s license structure.
“At this current time, there are no proposals or recommendations for the restructuring of license fees,” said DNR wildlife chief Paul Johansen. “This [report] gives us information to make informed decisions at such time a change might be appropriate.”