Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fees for Birding

In an unusual move, Arizona is now charging more to visit state lands for hiking, birding, or other forms of passive recreation than for hunting or fishing. Annual permits for passive recreation now cost $50 for an individual or $75 for a family. For hunting or fishing, one need only pay the cost of a state license ($32.25 for hunting or $23.50 for fishing). The fee increases came in response to steep budget cuts from the state legislature. The justification for the disparity seems rather odd.

Hogue acknowledged that the new fee structure does, in fact, make it cheaper to hunt on state land than it does to simply take a hike. But she said it made no sense to make those who already have bought a license from the state Game and Fish Department to purchase a separate permit to use state lands.

Anyway, she said, her agency doesn't see hunters and anglers as costing the state any money. "It's assumed that the hunting and fishing activity is incidental use," Hogue said. "In other words, they're coming onto the land only for one specific propose which is hunting and fishing which would not impact or necessarily mean the same as other, more intense uses."


"While you're hiking in it, you may be there for more hours," Hogue responded. And she said officers from Game and Fish are the ones responsible for monitoring the hunting and fishing activities.

Hogue said would-be hikers, birders and photographers can't escape the more-expensive recreational permits fees simply by purchasing one of the less-expensive hunting or fishing licenses. She said those who rely on the Game and Fish Department licenses actually have to be hunting or fishing.
I am not sure what conditions exist in Arizona. In New Jersey at least, supporting hunting and fishing activities requires fairly active management – keeping deer herds healthy, monitoring gamebird populations, rescuing trapped or injured hunters, breeding fish and stocking streams – and so those are more than just incidental activities. Perhaps in Arizona they require less support. Even so, it is hard to imagine an activity like hiking or bird watching costing significantly more to support than hunting and fishing. (Mountain biking and ORVs are a different story.)

There is something to be said for birders contributing to land conservation, either through purchase of duck stamps (or an equivalent) or paying use fees. However, those should be in line with existing licenses for hunting or fishing, and not so steep as to discourage lower-income participants. Birders and hikers should not be responsible for solving a state's budget problems.