Missouri's Conservation Commission wants public input on several proposed changes to current department policies.
The state Conservation Commission gave its initial approval to three proposals at its May 23 meeting, the department announced in a news release. Those changes include:
Increasing the minimum acreage needed to qualify for free landowner permits for deer and turkey hunting.
Creating a landowner registry to prevent people from obtaining the free landowner permits fraudulently.
Raising the price of permits for non-Missouri residents, but providing a discount for non-residents who own at least 75 acres of contiguous land in Missouri.
MDC is asking for public comment on the changes during July and early August at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z49.
"To comment on landowner acreage requirements, refer to '3 CSR 10-20.805 Definitions,'" the department explains in its news release. "To comment on the landowner registry, refer to '3 CSR 10-7.434 Deer: Landowner Privileges' or '3 CSR 10-7.455 Turkeys: Seasons, Methods, Limits.'"
After considering the comments received on the three proposals, the commission is expecting to approve, modify or withdraw the changes at its Aug. 23 meeting — with the changes becoming effective Feb. 29, 2020.
Change in acreage for free landowner permits
Under its current rules, the Missouri Department of Conservation provides free landowner permits for deer and turkey hunting for Missourians who own at least 5 acres of land.
That policy includes members of the landowners' immediate households.
The department also doesn't require those resident landowners and their immediate family members to have permits for hunting small game, fishing on waters of the state or trapping on their qualifying properties.
Joe Jerek, MDC's news services coordinator, told the News Tribune that, in 2017, the department issued a total of 186,561 landowner permits, and 35,513 of those went to people owning 19 or fewer acres.
However, he added, those 2017 numbers included people who leased land, and, as of March 1, 2019, only landowners can receive the free permits.
"So," Jerek said, "those number will drop. (But) we are not able to separate out how many were lessees, because that information was not tracked at the time of purchase."
Jerek said the department staff began considering the proposed change based on information from its biologists.
"(They) have found that significantly more than 5 acres of wildlife habitat is necessary to have meaningful impacts on deer, turkey and small-game populations using that land," Jerek explained. "MDC research shows that about 20-25 acres of habitat is needed to support one deer in Missouri."
In March, when the department held an "initial public comment period" about how much acreage should be required to qualify for the free landowner hunting permits, it received more than 14,000 comments. A minimum of 21 acres was the most common preference among those who commented.
Jerek said the department has no plans to continue allowing free landowner permits to current landowners with fewer than 20 acres if the commission ultimately sets 20 acres as the minimum — which would impact 19 percent of the current free landowner permit holders, based on the 2017 numbers that also included lessees.
Adding a landowner registry
The proposal for a landowner registry is an effort to "eliminate misuse" of the free permits the department issues.
The online registry would provide secure records of landowners and members of their households who qualify for the free permits, the news release explained. The electronic registry also would provide proof of land ownership and the boundaries of the properties where the free permits apply.
MDC Protection Division Chief Randy Doman said in the news release: "While most hunters properly use their free landowner permits from MDC, we find several hundred cases each season where folks do not play by the rules —intentionally or by mistake. Many of the violations involve people fraudulently obtaining and using the free permits when they do not qualify for them, such as claiming to be a resident landowner when they are not, or misrepresenting the number of acres they have.
"We also find folks who share their permits with others — which is illegal — and who use the permits on land other than the property for which the permits were issued, which also is not allowed."
Jerek noted: "The proposed landowner registry is needed by both MDC, and vendors who issue permits, to help eliminate misuse of the free permits.
He also noted the department had a landowner registry until 2004, but it involved a cumbersome transfer of information on paper, and "this was time consuming for both landowners and us, and both parties wanted to get them their permits faster, so we did away with it."
Since the proposed new registry would rely on online information, Jerek explained, "We and our permit vendors will be able to check landowner info at the time of purchase."
Discounts for nonresident landowners
People who live in other states but want to hunt in Missouri pay higher fees for licenses than Missourians do.
However, the department notes in its release, some of those people own land in Missouri that provides "wildlife habitat work (and) those efforts can provide significant benefits to state wildlife resources."
So the department is proposing significant reductions in those license fees to non-residents who own at least 75 acres of contiguous land in Missouri.
Trout permits and daily tags
The department also is considering raising the prices of its annual trout permits and its daily trout tag, starting next year.
In a news release, the department said the increases are needed to cover its costs better, of running five trout hatcheries that raise and release more than 1.7 million trout each year for public fishing.
If the price increases are implemented, starting in 2020 the cost of an annual trout permit will go from $7 to $10 for anglers 16 years and older, and from $3.50 to $5 for anglers who are 15 and younger.
The cost of a daily trout tag to fish at Missouri's four trout parks — Maramec Spring, Bennett Spring, Montauk and Roaring River — will go from $3 to $4 for adults and from $2 to $3 for those 15 years and younger.
"The Conservation Department has not increased these permit prices in nearly two decades," Director Sara Parker Pauley said in the news release. "We are adjusting these permit prices — which were set in 1999 — to make them more in line with today's real costs of the work we do. The price increases will help MDC meet the pressures of increased management costs at our hatcheries, and help meet the increased demand for trout fishing around the state."
According to the department, the annual cost of fish food and staff labor to raise a trout in 2003 was about $1 per fish. The annual cost in 2017 had jumped to nearly twice that amount.