Conservation work difficult on grandpa’s wages

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Many of us are living in a 2021 economy on outdated wages, so imagine trying to thrive today on 1990 wages, or even 1980 wages.

That’s the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s situation as the Arkansas Senate debates Senate Bill 670, which if enacted will raise the prices of all resident hunting and fishing licenses, stamps and permits.

The Senate Agriculture Committee floated a different bill, SB 523, in late March that would have pushed the prices of resident hunting and fishing licenses far above the public’s tolerance threshold. That bill died quickly.

SB 670 emerged in its place April 9. It originally called for raising fees for resident hunting and fishing licenses by as much as 65%, based on the Consumer Price Index from their last increases. The current price of the resident fishing license — $10.50 — was established in 1984. The current price of the resident sportsman’s hunting license — $25 — was established in 1990.

According to the U.S Bureau for Labor Consumer Price Index calculator, the rate of inflation since 1984 is 153.14%. That means $1 in 1984 would be worth $2.53 in 2021.

The inflation rate since 1990 is 106.76%. The value of $1 in 1990 is $2.07 today.

On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee sent SB 670 to the full Senate by a 5-3 vote. Senate members know that the Game and Fish Commission’s income is insufficient to maintain or repair aging facilities and equipment that provide hunting and fishing opportunities for Arkansans. Even though the dollar amounts of the increases were modest, the percentage increase was too high for senators facing re-election to impose on cash-strapped constituents.

SB 670 appeared to be dead at noon Wednesday, but it went back to committee late Wednesday for an overhaul. The increases in the revised bill are significantly lower and reportedly within legislators’ tolerance threshold.

Opponents insist that the Game and Fish Commission has a spending problem, not an income problem.

In 1997, the Game and Fish Commission said that the 1/8% sales tax embedded in Amendment 75 would sustain the agency’s financial needs “forever.” That was a foolish thing to say because prices only go up, and the value of a dollar only goes down. If you’ve done home improvements in the last year, you know that a 2x4x8 framing board jumped from about $3.70 to $7, but our wages remained stagnant.

Now, imagine maintaining a statewide system of levees, dams, water control structures, boat ramps, roads and fish hatcheries on 1984 and 1990 wages. I believe we can trace a decline in the quality of fishing, turkey hunting and duck hunting to a corresponding decrease in buying power that compromises the Game and Fish Commission’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Yes, the Game and Fish Commission is too moonstruck with traditional brick-and-mortar structures. The commission is also too deeply invested in the black hole of disease management, a bottomless money pit that shows no promise of a resolution. It’s also possible that the agency is overstaffed in some areas.

However, if we erased chronic wasting disease and the Springdale Nature Center from the board, and if we reduced the AGFC’s payroll by 10%, the savings would not cover the $250 million in repairs and upgrades that the commission struggles to achieve piecemeal with current funding levels.

These projects include renovating Lake Wilhelmina, the Spring River Fish Hatchery, and the rest of the hatchery system that provides bass, catfish, trout, walleye and other fish for Arkansans to catch and eat.

We’re talking about $2 million to maintain or repair 400 boat ramps.

We’re talking about about $2.22 million to repair or maintain about 600 miles of roads to access boat ramps and wildlife management areas.

We’re talking about $45 million to re-engineer water management structures and infrastructure on 15 green tree reservoirs where thousands of Arkansans hunt ducks.

If resident license fees increase, I am told that the commission will significantly…



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