Missouri's fish, forest and wildlife resources are the way they are today largely because of a strong foundation of citizen support and the resulting unique conservation programs of the Missouri Department of Conservation." These words are the theme for our exhibit at the soon-to be constructed American National Fish and Wildlife Living Museum and Aquarium in Springfield. They leaped out as I reviewed material for this month's column. While my goal is to explain the recent Conservation Commission action to adjust (a polite term for mostly increasing) permit fees for 1999, this statement to me embodies the way conservation business is done in Missouri. Many people are involved in determining the desired results of our work; they pay for the programs through their conservation sales tax and outdoor permit fees and, increasingly, their donations, then they provide the necessary protection and involvement to make sure we get the job done. They also examine our programs and products and suggest ways to improve them.
The Commission decided to restructure some permit fees for 1999. Changes were made to correspond with public comments and desires. For example, muzzleloader hunters' requests to make the muzzleloader permit part of the firearms deer permit and to not have to choose between two weapon types during the regular deer season were honored. A new youth deer and turkey hunting permit was created, allowing younger hunters to hunt under the supervision of a qualified adult. The migratory bird hunting fee will increase, but the $5 fee for hunting in managed waterfowl areas will be dropped. Nonresident fees will be substantially increased to more fairly match other states' charges-long a suggestion of many Missourians who hunt and fish on occasion out of state. While deer permits will go up for the first tag purchased, the second tag will remain the same, and the third tag will DECREASE in cost-a suggestion by many to increase doe harvest.
As you may know, we have substantially cut our operating budget and moved these funds to capital projects like the new Lost Valley Fish Hatchery, near Warsaw; shifted central office employees to the field; decentralized to place operational decision making at the field level; emphasized teamwork among divisions and established common regional boundaries for better internal management and one-stop public service. These and a myriad of smaller changes position us to continue leading the nation in the conservation programs you want while operating in a cost effective manner.
These changes preceded any discussion of permit increases. Additionally, the Commission insisted that any net increase from these changes and fee increases be plowed back into "on the ground" improvements, such as habitat to help quail and rabbits, riparian stream programs, private landowner cost-share partnerships, land acquisition of key areas and shooting ranges-all programs identified by Missourians as essential additions for conservation in the Show Me State.
While it would be easier to rely on statements like "it's been 8 years since substantial permit adjustments;" "our permit fees will still be well below those of most states;" "the adjustments won't take place until next year;" or "permit fees remain a small portion of the total hunting and fishing expense," there is another reason for occasional adjustment of fees that is worth considering.
Shortly after passage of the conservation sales tax, permit fees composed over 40 percent of Conservation Department income; by 1998 this had shrunk as a percentage to around 20 percent. This imbalance is not what was intended with the passage of the sales tax. Permits and sales tax were to be complementary. Fee increases would be held down but would still provide for at least some direct user funded programs, such as trout fishing on daily stocked areas. The fee adjustments will partially readjust this growing imbalance and at least keep the ratio above the present low level.
Finally, cheer up and stop that involuntary movement toward your billfold that occurs when we talk about adjustments. The fee adjustments will not be effective until March 1999. In the meantime, do what Missourians (and nonresidents) have always done on use and support for natural resource management-compare the results and value you get for your investment, get involved in determining the direction of programs, let us know your conclusions and, especially, get outdoors this fall and enjoy the fruits of your past investments. No state has more natural outdoors to offer in the fall than Missouri.
JERRY M. CONLEY