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MassWildlife Funding

For the first time since 1996, MassWildlife is proposing changes to hunting, freshwater fishing, and trapping license fees.

In May 2021, MassWildlife released a new license proposal, which incorporates public input on the original February proposal. In the new proposal, most license fee increases will be phased in over five years, and the proposed increases for hunting permits and stamps are lower than originally proposed.

Public hearings will be held on June 22, 23, and 24 on Zoom to provide the public an opportunity to comment on the new proposed changes (see details below).

The current proposal incorporates public feedback gathered through six information sessions held in February and March, as well as phone calls, emails, letters, and a webform. Although many stakeholders expressed an understanding of the need to raise fees after 25 years, there was a strong desire to see the proposed increases for license fees phased in over time, and to lower the proposed increases for the costs of hunting permits and stamps. In response, MassWildlife and the Department of Fish and Game worked with the Baker-Polito Administration to revise the original fee proposal. Recognizing that all Massachusetts residents benefit from MassWildlife’s work to conserve wildlife, protect open space, and preserve clean water and air, the Baker-Polito Administration will work to diversify MassWildlife’s funding and reduce the burden on the fee-paying sporting community. This change will make it possible to maintain MassWildlife’s programming and services with lower fees than originally proposed. Please click here to view the current and proposed fees for hunting, freshwater fishing, and trapping licenses, permits, and stamps.

Stakeholders can provide public comment by speaking at one of the hearings or providing written comment through 4 p.m. on July 8.

Table of Contents

How is MassWildlife funded?

MassWildlife is primarily funded through the sale of hunting, freshwater fishing, and trapping licenses, permits, and stamps, in addition to dedicated federal funds from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program. These dedicated federal funds account for approximately half of MassWildlife’s budget and are critical to sustaining our wildlife conservation programs in the Commonwealth. A small remainder of the budget comes from bond initiatives, donations, and general funds. Unlike other state agencies, MassWildlife receives only a small percentage of its operational budget from state general funds, such as those derived from state income or sales taxes. All funds from freshwater fishing, hunting, and trapping licenses go directly into the Inland Fish and Game Fund, which can only be used for administering programs for MassWildlife.

Why is MassWildlife considering a license increase?

MassWildlife has not raised license fees since 1996. Over the past 25 years, MassWildlife has been able to maintain its high level of services and programs through responsible fiscal management without needing to raise license fees. But with inflation up nearly 67% since 1996; increased agency responsibilities; and steadily increasing state-mandated costs such as payroll taxes and health insurance, revenue has not been meeting expenses for several years. Additionally, sporting and hunting license sales have declined 20% and 50%, respectively, over the last 25 years, and the number of free licenses issued to those 70 years and older now totals approximately 27,000 per year. Periodic license increases are an unfortunate necessity to keep pace with inflation and general costs of living. Unless we act now, the Inland Fish and Game Fund is projected to be out of funds in three years (FY2025). MassWildlife is proposing an increase in license fees to fund core operations and maintain the high-quality programs and services constituents have come to expect from the agency over the past 25 years.

How do license fees provide programs and services for hunters, anglers, and trappers?

License buyers are MassWildlife’s partners in keeping wildlife populations healthy and abundant, protecting their habitat, and maintaining access for outdoor recreation. Fees from fishing, hunting, and trapping licenses, permits, and fees provide a variety of services for sportsmen and -women, including the scientific management of fish and wildlife; trout and pheasant stocking; habitat management; and educational programs such as Angler Education, Hunter Education, Becoming an Outdoors Woman, Junior Conservation Camp, Teaching with Trout, Junior Duck Stamp, and National Archery in the Schools. MassWildlife also manages and protects over 226,000 acres of conserved lands and waters open to the public for hunting, fishing, trapping, and wildlife viewing.

How does MassWildlife’s work benefit Massachusetts?

All Massachusetts residents and visitors benefit from MassWildlife’s work to conserve wildlife, protect open space, and preserve clean water and air. MassWildlife manages over 226,000 acres of conserved lands and waters open to the public for fishing, hunting, trapping, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor recreation. Wildlife-related recreation in Massachusetts generates about $2 billion in retail sales annually and supports about 35,000 jobs. Through science-based management and strong educational programs, MassWildlife ensures healthy fish and wildlife populations, abundant natural resources, and scenic landscapes that contribute to a strong outdoor economy and improve the quality of life for all citizens.

What fee changes is MassWildlife proposing, and when would the changes go into effect?

In this new license fee proposal, released in May 2021, many of the new fees would be phased in over five years beginning in 2022. This would be the first increase in 26 years. Please click here to view the current and proposed fees for hunting, freshwater fishing, and trapping licenses, permits, and stamps.

How did MassWildlife determine the proposed fees?

In February 2021, MassWildlife and the Fisheries and Wildlife Board completed a comprehensive review of the agency’s finances, including an analysis of all programs, operating costs, and current license fees and sales trends. The fee schedule originally proposed in mid-February was designed to address MassWildlife’s current revenue shortfall; sustain the Inland Fish and Game Fund for another decade; fund core operations; and maintain MassWildlife's high-quality programs and services, with license costs comparable to the other New England states.

In May 2021, MassWildlife released a new license proposal which incorporates public input gathered about the original February proposal through six information sessions held in February and March, as well as phone calls, emails, letters, and a webform. Although many stakeholders expressed an understanding of the need to raise fees after 25 years, there was a strong desire to see fee increases phased in over time, and to lower the proposed increases to hunting permits and stamps. In response, MassWildlife and the Department of Fish and Game worked with the Baker-Polito Administration to revise the original fee proposal. The Baker-Polito Administration recognizes that all Massachusetts residents benefit from MassWildlife’s work to conserve wildlife, protect open space, and preserve clean water and air. The Administration has therefore agreed to work to diversify MassWildlife’s funding and reduce the burden on the fee-paying sporting community, making it possible to maintain MassWildlife’s programming and services with lower fees than originally proposed.

When are the public hearings, and how can the public participate?

Public hearings on the proposed fee changes will be held:

You can provide comments on the license fee proposal by speaking at one of these three public hearings. You can also provide written comments at any time from now through 4 p.m. on July 8, 2021.

Click here to view the full text of proposed rules and regulations.

How will MassWildlife fund conservation in the future?

MassWildlife’s efforts to conserve fish and wildlife for the benefit of all citizens relies heavily on the revenue generated from fishing and hunting licenses, yet less than 5% of Massachusetts residents fish, hunt, or trap. The challenge of funding wildlife conservation in the 21st century is not unique to Massachusetts. Most states are heavily dependent on license sales and federal aid from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program to fund their state’s conservation programs. Nationally, participation in hunting and fishing is declining, along with license revenue, and state agencies are finding they cannot sustain themselves by relying solely on license fees.  

Recognizing that all Massachusetts residents benefit from MassWildlife’s work to conserve wildlife, protect open space, and preserve clean water and air, the Baker-Polito Administration will work to diversify MassWildlife’s funding and reduce the burden on the fee-paying sporting community, creating a more sustainable funding model for the future. At the same time, the proposed license fee increases, while more modest than originally proposed, and phased in over time, remain critical to maintaining current operations, programs, and services that MassWildlife’s constituents have come to expect.

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