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Our Natural net. Worth

My net worth has always been pretty easy to figure. I rely more on subtraction than addition and don't have to factor in annuities, variable interest or depreciation. Actually, my last checkbook stub tells me within a dime how much money I have.

I grew up that way. My dad worked hard in a factory to keep our family together in a tiny house. For us, a torn jacket or a lost schoolbook were near calamities.

There were a lot of us "poor folks" around. We saw them on the local lake nearly every evening. Fathers and their children or whole families lined the banks, their fishing rods raising and lowering like fairy wands. We may have been better off than most, for we had a small metal boat that we could row-troll along the climatic, beyond the reach of shorecasters.

Sure, fishing was as much fun then as it is now, but the fish we caught on worms we'd collected during the last rainstorm provided important relief for the family grocery budget. We even ate around the backbones of bluegill and crappie because we knew that we'd lose meat if we filleted them.

I use this background to explain the "sticker shock" I initially felt when I learned about adjustments in the permit fee structure that will increase the price of some hunting and fishing permits I buy every year. (See page 31.)

The permit fee adjustments go into effect March 1, 1999. Not all permit prices are rising; many stay the same and some are going down. But the general trend is up, and nonresidents will generally experience more of a "bite" than people who live in Missouri.

I'll give you a few examples from the new permit fee structure for residents. The price of a resident firearms deer permit and a resident firearms any-deer permit will each increase from $11 to $15, while First Bonus permits remain the same and Second Bonus permits drop to $7. Muzzleloading deer hunters will not have to buy a special muzzleloading permit. They can hunt with muzzleloaders or modern firearms during the November season and hunt with their unfilled firearms tags during the December season. Fishing permits will increase $2, spring turkey hunting permits go up $4, but fall turkey hunting permits remain the same.

I won't try to tell you that price increases or adjustments are good for you, but I am convinced they are necessary. A complicated explanation for them starts with a formula that says a certain proportion of Conservation Department funds should come from permit sales. This amount supports programs that directly benefit hunters and anglers, such as habitat management, stream accesses and landowner programs.

Revenues from the conservation sales tax offset these costs, too, but go primarily toward land acquisition and development and other long-term needs, such as conservation education and nature centers.

That prices occasionally have to be adjusted is just common sense. The cost of nearly everything has increased since the Conservation Department's last significant permit price hikes nine years ago. Cars, homes, groceries, boats, motors, fishing rods, guns and binoculars all cost more. And, of course, trout cost more to raise, equipment is more expensive to buy, and we pay more for the concrete we pour when building boat ramps and the lumber we use to construct privies.

A few months ago I surveyed neighboring states to compare our permit prices with theirs. Ours were wonderfully low. Even with these adjustments, we are still among the lowest, although we're now closer to the middle.

I think our hunters and anglers get a much better deal, though. The Missouri Conservation Department doesn't merely sell permits, it provides access to hundreds of lakes and streams that it stocks with millions of fish. And when people are looking for places to hunt, they can take their choice of nearly a million acres owned or managed by the Conservation Department.

I'd hate to think that $2 a year would keep anyone from fishing, or that other permit price increases would make anyone turn away from a valuable sporting tradition. When we calculate Missourians' net worth in terms of the outdoors, taking into account our bounty of game and fish and our opportunities for chasing them, we clearly fall into the category of rich folks. That's something you can forever bank on.

Tom Cwynar

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