JEFFERSON CITY — Bombarded with sometimes angry comments from Missouri hunters, anglers and landowners, the state Conservation Commission voted Friday to pull a plan charging more for hunting and fishing permits and requiring more land to qualify for free permits.
The Conservation Department proposed the higher permit prices in September, which was about the time that the national economy's woes grew more pronounced. Director John Hoskins said Friday that the recession needed to be accounted for in deciding whether to push for the higher prices.
"In this unprecedented of times in the state and national economy, it is not the time to suggest an increase," he said.
The proposed permit fee increases would have affected both Missourians and nonresidents and would have varied for each type of license. But after Friday's vote, the price hikes will go only toward nonresidents, effective July 1.
For example, nonresidents are to pay $225 for a deer license — an extra $50 — while residents will still pay $17. Missourians will continue paying $12 for fishing licenses while nonresidents will see a $2 increase to $42.
The proposed free permit provisions for landowners would have started requiring those hunting on their own property to pay for deer and turkey hunting permits if they own less than 80 acres. Currently, those who own at least five acres of land and the people who lease the property while living on it are entitled to the free permits.
The higher permit fees were designed more to shore up future funding needs than address immediate concerns, Hoskins said, and the department doesn't expect to make any immediate changes because the proposed increases were scrapped.
The 80-acre proposal drew the ire of landowners and even some state lawmakers, who questioned its wisdom and rationale. Sen. Matt Bartle, in a weekly column posted Thursday, accused the Conservation Department of "overreaching" and urged the commission to reconsider.
"Allowing landowners to harvest a few of the deer that roam their property, without having to buy a permit, is only fitting considering the loss of crops and other damage they incur throughout the year," wrote Bartle, R-Lee's Summit.
Part of the reason for the higher fees was to help the department with its financial needs. Much of the Conservation Department's revenue comes from a dedicated 1/8-cent sales tax and from selling hunting and fishing permits. But Hoskins said neither has been covering the cost for inflation over the past several years.
At the same meeting where the commission rejected the permit changes, board members were given a financial report indicating that revenue this year from the dedicated sales tax is down nearly 5 percent from the same period last year. The department's spending, meanwhile, has increased by more than 5 percent.
The Conservation Department received nearly 17,000 comments from 10,132 people during a 30-day public comment period that ran from Nov. 17 through Tuesday. Commission members said the outcry was one of the reasons they decided to back off.
"We value the input that the people make, and the people are certainly not shy," said commissioner Don Johnson of St. Louis.
The Conservation Department intends to continue studying the most controversial elements and to work through possible alternatives with those who would be affected.
Besides rejecting the new permit fees and free hunting privileges, the commissioners kept other elements, such as requiring holders of deer and turkey permits be at least 6 years old.
And in a separate vote, the conservation panel voted unanimously to keep the same turkey hunting regulations for the fall and spring seasons.