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Hunters, anglers take a hard hit

After a bad year of fishing, a bad year of hunting and an even worse economy, Friday was not the time to tell Darrell Moore he might be paying more for the privilege of pursuing his passions in Oregon's woods and waters.

"The fees keep going up, but what are we paying for?" Moore said Friday while buying fishing gear at the Black Bird Shopping Center in west Medford.

"The fishing's going down, the hunting's going down," the Elkton resident said. "I just don't see where we're getting our money's worth."

Hunters, anglers and organizations that represent them were all mulling Gov. Ted Kulongoski's decision this week to push forth a proposed 20 percent climb in hunting and angling fees as part of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's 2009-11 budget.

Kulongoski's $15.8 billion budget request to the Oregon Legislature includes less general fund and Oregon Lottery money than originally proposed for ODFW's budget, which was trimmed from nearly $300 million to $263 million.

To get there, the proposal includes across-the-board raises in hunting, angling and commercial fishing fees as well as fees to taxidermists and others.

The proposals mirror those drafted by ODFW officials during a string of public meetings in which hunters and anglers reluctantly supported the increases.

But that was before the crashing stock market, layoffs and economic malaise made the prospect of paying more to hunt and fish even grimmer.

"If there's ever going to be a fee increase, this is not the year," said Mike McMullen of Black Bird, where gift-card sales associated with 2009 licenses were way down.

The Legislature will begin hashing over the ODFW and other agency budgets when it convenes in January.

Any new fees must be adopted by the Legislature and signed by Kulongoski. They would not go into effect until 2010.

ODFW spokesman Rick Hartgrave acknowledged that because of cuts in projected revenues and other financial pressures, a budget proposal that once promised program improvements turned to one with some job cuts.

"Our proposal is not asking for anything extra," Hartgrave said. "It's to maintain our services. It tries to catch us up to the cost of doing business.

"I think folks know the economy is tough and they don't anticipate an overflow of new opportunities," Hartgrave said.

The proposal was getting mixed reviews among Oregon's hunting and angling organizations that have supported the ODFW's past attempts to boost its fees, some of which have gone unchanged for decades.

Norm Ritchie, co-president of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, said his organization's rank and file remain angered that money from sport-fishing fees was being spent on programs they consider harmful to their interests.

The ODFW's push for marine reserves where recreational ocean fishing may be banned was just one example of reasons association members may go from cheerleaders to sideline watchers on this fee-increase debate, Ritchie said.

"In the final result, we may not oppose it," Ritchie said. "But I don't think we'll hold rallies in support of it as we did in the past."

ODFW Director Roy Elicker was scheduled today in Bend to address the state board of the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association, the state's largest hunting organization, OHA Secretary Duane Dungannon said.

The board may then decide whether to take a position on the proposal, Dungannon said.

Hartgrave said he believes Oregon's licensed hunters and anglers ultimately will tell their legislators to vote for the proposal sometime next year.

"There will be folks out there who are disappointed," Hartgrave said. "Bottom line, I think we have support for the fee increases now."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Darrell Moore of Elkton Oregon shops for fishing nets at Blackbird Friday. Moore thinks the legislative session is the wrong time to ask for fishing and hunting license price increases. - Jamie Lusch