Columbia -- The S.C. Department of Natural Resources is beginning to lay the groundwork for fee increases for hunters and anglers that could pump $4.7 million more into the agency each year.
The natural resource agency has been hit hard by state budget cuts as its state appropriations has dropped from $32 million to $14 million. The agency's board views a fee increase as a fair way for those who use the state's woods and waterways to pay for their upkeep and protection.
"We want to take care of the playground, and the people who play there should pay," board chairwoman Caroline Rhodes said.
An early draft of the fee changes calls for increases in freshwater fishing licenses (from $10 to $15), hunting licenses ($18 to $25), combo licenses ($25 to $35), turkey tags (no fee to $11), saltwater fishing licenses ($10 to $15), temporary fishing licenses ($5 to $6) and state duck stamps ($5.50 to $11).
Boat registration fees would go from a flat rate of $30 for all boats to $35 for boats less than 16 feet, $45 for those 16 feet to 25 feet, 11 inches and $55 for 26 feet and longer. That would bring in about $1 million in additional revenue.
The board has discussed the proposed changes and has begun presenting the plan to key legislators. They expect the formal request will be delayed until the 2013 legislative session, since any increases will be hard to approve in an election year.
"I don't like waiting," Rhodes said. "I don't like the idea of dragging our feet, but I don't like failure either."
Nearly one-fourth of the increase would come from a $5 boost in the freshwater fishing license for state residents, which has been $10 since 1985. The state sells about 200,000 fishing licenses each year.
The new fees still would be lower than the 14-state Southern average for hunting and fishing licenses and near the average for everyone else.