Thursday, February 16, 2006
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Putting "Hunters" back into Hunters for the Hungry
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
When purchasing a hunting license, have you ever been asked: “Would you like to contribute $2 to Hunters for the Hungry?”
Most likely, you haven’t. I can’t recall a license agent ever putting that question to me.
The voluntary check-off system isn’t working. In fact, contributions have declined since the first year it was in place. It appears that the 2005 check-off contribution will amount to about $12,500. That’s sorry. That’s unacceptable, when you consider that about a half-million dollars are needed to operate the program. In 2003, the check-off figure was $19,500. So the concept is losing ground.
“Our frustration is that out of the 743 license agents that sold licenses in 2004, 434 collected zero dollars for the program. Another 158 collected $10 or less,” said Laura Newell-Furniss, director of the program.
At that rate, it may be prudent to strike the word “Hunters” from the title. The cold truth is that hunters contribute less than 50 percent of the funds needed to operate the program.
There is a bill making its way through the General Assembly that would change that. It was introduced at the request of Hunters for the Hungry by Sen. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, and would add an extra $1 ($2 for nonresidents) to the price of a big game license. The bill, SB 718, passed the Senate 32 to 7 and has been sent to the House.
The new money would go to Hunters for the Hungry, which takes the excess of deer killed in Virginia and processes and distributes it to feed the hungry. The program is one of the finest charitable organizations in existence, and it creates an enormous amount of good will for hunting and hunters. It is vital in the state’s effort to control the deer herd.
Even so, the bill creates some risk. Would the extra fee result in buyer resistance, a frequent occurrence when license fees have been boosted? Hunting license revenue the first half of the current fiscal year already is down nearly one-quarter million dollars. We can’t afford to lose a single hunter or fail to recruit a single newcomer. SB 718, by the way, would not apply to youth licenses.
Would the bill open the door for other causes to be attached to the price of a hunting license? Remember the Wildlife Conservation license plate that came on line in 1991. It was the first specialty tag and it was designed to draw funds to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for wildlife work. Now there are about 180 specialty tags.
Would the bill make it more difficult for DGIF to raise its basic license fees, something it must do in the near future if its programs are to be funded?
Would people who have contributed voluntarily to Hunters for the Hungry think they no longer need to give, thus leaving a huge gap in funding?
Newell-Furniss is fully aware of such concerns. She even has considered an opt-out box which would let a license buyer escape paying the extra fee if he or she requested. She doesn’t believe many people would select that option. When hunters are asked, they contribute. The big problem, they aren’t being asked when they buy their license, and that’s why the volunteer check-off hasn’t worked.
“We have had volunteers and we as staff have gone to license agents and explained the program asking them to please have their staff ask for the donation, and still we hear back from hunters that they are not asking,” said Newell-Furniss.
The DGIF rapidly is headed toward an automated license selling system, but that’s not going to help Hunters for the Hungry. “The new computerized system is also dependent on the clerk to ask the question,” she said.
“A dollar -- four quarters -- for most people is not going to be a hardship and we can do so much good with it,” said Newell-Furniss.
The program this season distributed 350,000 pounds of venison to the needed. That figure could be even more impressive with additional funding. There is a great need for more places for hunters to drop off deer being contributed to the program.
The license increase would bring an estimated $258,000 into the program, Newell-Furniss said. That means traditional sources of funding will continue to be important. These in include churches; civic clubs, such as the Ruritans; contributions from individuals; grants from corporations, such as Phillip Morris, which contributes $50,000; raffles; charity golf tournaments; collections at hunter functions.
Newell-Furniss said the Sen. Stolle’s bill has the blessing of DGIF officials. It also gets that from me. It comes with risk, but one dollar is a modest payment for such enormous benefit.