In This Issue:
- Reduced Outfitter & Guide License Renewal Fee
- Aquatic Invasive Species, What’s New
- Madison Recreation Plan
Montana Board of Outfitters approves fee reduction for license renewal fees
Montana Board of Outfitters (MBO) at their August meeting approved fee reductions for license renewals, 44% for Outfitters, 66% for Guides, and 50% for inactive Outfitters. This means that during late 2019, cost to renew an Outfitter license will be $210, cost to renew a Guide license will be $50, and cost to renew as an inactive Outfitter will be $100. The MBO members reviewed several other fee projections before finally agreeing on these renewal fees.
The fee reduction proposal was brought to the MBO by the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association (MOGA) and supported by FOAM and the Department of Labor and Industry’s Business Standards Division Administrator, Todd Younkin.
The fee reduction will be used to reduce an accumulating cash balance at the MBO currently at $809,000. Due to the statutory limitations placed on cash reserves the growing cash balance is not available to the MBO for special projects. The MBO, along with other boards, had their ability to spend their own license fee income frozen by the legislature. Further, there is a law that says no board can have a cash balance more than two times their annual spending authority limit, and if a board exceeds the two-times limit, the legislature can “divert” that account for other uses. The MBO cash balance was nearing the two-times limit, and no one wanted any extra fee income to be lost to the legislature. Approved fee reductions are projected to reduce this cash balance to $340,000 by 2024.
FOAM has repeatedly urged the MBO to spend money repairing the Accela online log and operations plan system and a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) with FWP to pay wardens to enforce board law and rule in the field. These expenses could be available if a future legislature increases board spending authority. The MBO expects moderate renewal fee increases after 2024 to match the MBO’s future budget which may well include our requested online system and in-field enforcement expenses.
What Happened with the Madison River Recreation Plan?
At its April 19 meeting, the Fish & Wildlife Commission, after hearing from several outfitters, a representative of the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (FOAM), and former Executive Director of the Madison River Foundation, voted unanimously to reject the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 3 Madison River Recreation Plan proposal. Testimony centered on the fact that the majority of the proposed restrictions were solely on commercial use – outfitted use accounts for less than 13% of the total annual use on the Madison River – and that the proposed changes would have little effect on overall crowding. The Fish & Wildlife Commission directed FWP to provide them with a new plan that would incorporate non-commercial use and better address the issue of crowding.
Following that meeting, FOAM recognized and agreed that limits on outfitted use in some form are needed on the Madison River. We also understand that the proportion of commercial use on the Madison River increases during specific time periods, such as during the Salmonfly hatch and peak summer season. Several Madison River Special Recreation Permit (SRP) holders and FOAM looked to explore ways in which commercial and non-commercial use can be distributed in a manner that protects both the resource and the quality of the fishing experience for all those using the Madison River.
Before the Commission’s June meeting, we met with Commissioner Dan Vermillion, who is extremely knowledgeable of the Madison Plan, to discuss the process we should likely follow and ideas for a new improved plan. He knew of our involvement with the outfitters and provided us with some recommendations to work with the outfitters and get them and the Commissioners a compiled list of recommendations, if not a full-blown plan.
At the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s June meeting, Fish, Wildlife & Parks was seeking guidance from the Commission on how to structure the new Madison River Recreation Plan process for developing new rules. They had four alternatives:
* Use a Negotiated Rule Making process to revise the River Recreation Rule as presented to the Commission on April 19,
* Use the existing Region 3 Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), or modify it to include non-represented stakeholders, to revise the River Recreation Rule,
* Revise the rule as proposed on April 19 using public input presented during the April 19 Commission meeting and received by the Department throughout the public comment period, or,
* Chose a No Action Alternative
After much discussion and public testimony the Commission voted to use Alternative A and build upon the work previously developed by the 2012 Madison River Recreation CAC, the 2018 Environmental Assessment, and revising the proposed rule from April 19. They were encouraged to use Negotiated Rule Making to resolve controversial issues, although probably the most time-consuming and complex of the 4 alternatives.
At this time the Commission and FWP are still working out the details of this complex process. We were assured that as soon as they get an outline of the specifics, the information will be readily available.
AIS Funding Update
The Environmental Quality Council (EQC) of the Montana Legislature has been working on a new funding structure for Montana’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program since January. The EQC is a bipartisan group of legislators and public members that meet during the months between sessions to study specific issues and consider whether to recommend new legislation.
Currently, Montana’s AIS Program is funded by hydroelectric fees that provide $3.7 million in annual funding and the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass purchased by anglers that generates about $3 million per year. In past EQC meetings we fully supported the Council’s work and understanding to generate AIS Program funding through a more equitably-represented fishing license fee between resident and non-residents. We believe the disproportionate fee was largely responsible for reduced sales of 2-day and 10-day non-resident licenses. Non-resident 2-day fishing license sales dropped from 130,000 in 2015 to 109,000 in 2017.
During July of this year, the EQC proposed using a combination of general fund, gas taxes generated by motorboat use, and angler and watercraft fees to provide future funding. Additionally, he EQC is proposing to charge a commercial watercraft fee of $100. Hydroelectric fees would not be collected.
We provided the comments in a letter and testified at their July meeting reiterating our support for a more equitable resident-nonresident fishing license fee, using the gas tax, using a watercraft sticker, using general fund funds if possible, and not using any type of commercial use fee on watercraft to fund the AIS Program.
Following their July meeting, the EQC released new funding scenario package. This funding proposed funding package includes:
* a more reasonable resident/nonresident fishing license fee, resident=$2 per year, nonresident=$7.50 per year, estimated annual revenue is $1,707,420;
* they added a $2 fee also to the waterfowl license, estimated annual revenue is $52,226;
* a motorized watercraft fee, resident is $10 per year, nonresident is $60, estimated annual revenue is $1,090,780;
* a non-motorized watercraft fee, resident is $5 per year, nonresident is $10, estimated annual revenue is $375,235;
* and, using the General Fund ($3,274,339) to generate funds to administer and deliver Montana’s AIS Program with a total estimated annual revenue of $6,500,000.
The next round of EQC meetings are 12-13 September. We will be attending that meeting and plan to support this fee structure for funding structure proposed.