Why Kansas hunting proposals could cost KDWP millions after lawmaker threatened its budget

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The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks is facing potential budget cuts as lawmakers consider changes to the hunting fees that are a substantial funding source for the agency.

A proposed change to fees for out-of-state hunters could cost KDWP millions of dollars a year, as could creation of a new transferable hunting permit for landowners. Some allege fiscal cost is intentional political retribution.

While both bills were struck from the calendar because they did not pass the House by Friday’s turnaround deadline, the substance of the legislation could be added to other bills, such as through budget provisos.

Lawmaker threatened KDWP budget over baiting discussions

In written testimony opposing one of the bills, Manhattan hunger Jeffrey Hancock pointed to past comments by Rep. Lewis Bloom, R-Clay Center, about baiting as evidence of a retaliatory intent.

The agency and the Wildlife and Parks Commission have been holding discussions over baiting and concerns from biologists that such activities are contributing to the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, through unnatural congregation of wildlife.

The idea of the government potentially limiting or banning hunters and hunting lodges from using corn piles or other forms of feed to bait deer in order to make it easier to hunt them has been controversial. The topic has come up at several commission meetings, the agency has held informational forums, legislators have discussed it and Attorney General Kris Kobach made a video about it.

Bloom attended one of those forums hosted by KDWP and K-State Research and Extension in Manhattan on Sept. 21. He got up near the end of the meet to deliver a not-so-veiled threat to the agency’s budget because officials continue to discuss baiting.

“I’m Rep. Lewis Bloom,” he said. “I’m on the ag budget committee with chairman Ken Corbett. We control your budget. This isn’t just about baiting deer, this is also about losing our private property rights.”

He went on to more explicitly threaten the agency’s budget.

“As of today, talking to Ken Corbett — and we have the votes to do this — if you consider thinking about banning baiting, when you come to us this winter, we are going to take a million dollars off the top of your budget immediately,” Bloom said. “And then we’re going to recommend going through — we will go through — every line item bit by bit and take off everything we can possibly find. This isn’t just about baiting deer, this is about losing our freedoms. We’re tired of it; our constituents are tired of it.”

He said he appreciates the expertise of wildlife officials, but some of their actions make no sense, and he believes some form of regulation will result from the discussions.

“I’m telling you, we have the votes to do this,” he said. “We don’t want this rammed down our constituents’ throat. We don’t want to be told what to do on private ground.”

Both House Bill 2671 and House Bill 2672 were later introduced by Rep. Corbett, R-Topeka and chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Committee. Corbet owns Ravenwood Lodge in rural southwest Shawnee County.

Cutting costs for out-of-state hunters
As first introduced by Corbet, HB 2671 would have cut nonresident hunting license costs from maximums of $125 and $75, depending on age, to a maximum of $25 that included associated fees. Nonresidents who did not ultimately get a permit would get a refund.

Wildlife and Parks estimated that would have resulted in $17.8 million in lost revenue every year.

The bill was later amended to make no changes to the fees for nonresident hunters, but still give refunds minus up to a $30 application fee to applicants who did not get white-tail deer permits.

Wildlife and Parks secretary Brad Loveless told lawmakers that some changes discussed could reduce the lost revenue to $2-3 million, while a change to the refunds would amount to $8 million in lost revenue annually.

“We’re already making cuts because budgets are tight,” Loveless said. “This would really exacerbate that, make it much worse.”

Corbet said the bill is about people who “want their money back.”

Loveless said the agency has not heard from the hunting community that it wants such changes.

“These nonresidents are not complaining to us,” he said. “We advertise right up front, if you don’t draw, you’re still going to keep that license, and they don’t complain to us.”

He said guides and outfitters have suggested that KDWP should increase nonresident fees.

“They said it’s small enough in their overall cost to come to Kansas and hunt that it’s not significant to them,” Loveless said. “And with that money, they knew our budgets are tight, they would like to see more law enforcement presence across the state. So they said you can put that money in more officers, and that would benefit us and our businesses.”

The Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Safari Club both opposed it due to the loss in funding for conservation efforts and natural resource management.

Transferable hunting permits for landowners

Lawmakers also considered another bill that could have significant impacts on hunting in the state with HB 2672. That bill would repeal the current hunt-on-your-own-land permits while creating a new transferable landowner appreciation permit for white-tailed deer.

Corbet said it would be good policy because it would open up more territory for hunting.

Loveless said transferable permits were previously tried in 2003, but the Legislature quickly reversed the “failed policy.”

It was originally proposed to be one permit for every 80 acres, up to 10 permits, for landowners. But it was amended to up to two total.

Landowners could sell the permits to residents or nonresidents.

The Kansas Livestock Association backed, but the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Safari Club both opposed it.

Loveless said the original proposal would be detrimental to both the agency’s budget and conservation efforts.

Based on landowner records, the number of permits for antlered white-tailed deer could more than triple. That could result in overharvesting and a “catastrophic” impact on the herd and the industry. That agency might also stop offering nonresident draw permits.

“The bill would effectively remove our ability to manage deer in Kansas, especially at the deer management unit level,” Loveless said.

Loveless originally predicted that the agency would lose $33.5 million a year through direct and indirect lost revenue. KDWP said their conservative estimate of the impact would result in a direct loss of $13.5 million, and an indirect loss of more than $20 million because without that revenue, the agency would not have the match needed to take advantage of federal Pittman-Robertson funds.

Even with the cap of two instead of 10, there could be a 50% increase in the current number of permits in the state.

“So it would clearly have an impact on the herd quality,” Loveless said. “Maybe most importantly, it would result in there being no resident over-the-county tags.”

Additionally, at the lower cap, the lost revenue to KDWP would be about $25 million.

As reported in the Topeka Capital Journal

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