I was probably just as astonished as every other sportsman in Oregon when I discovered that 2004 prices for licenses had increased $5, a total of $10 for a combination license. In addition big game tags were raised anywhere from $5 to $10 each for the 2004 seasons.

There were exceptions, such as bear and cougar, where the prices stayed the same, and application fees remained at $4.50. With the price of hunting and fishing on the ever upward spiral, I wanted to know why?

That's what prompted the decision to pick up the phone and dial the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife information number. After the process of going through the automated directory, and a couple of referrals, I was finally connected to Ann Pressentin, an ODFW information and education officer.

During our conversation, Pressentin gave some interesting insight as to how this increase came into effect. In fact as the conversation played out, my eyes began to open wider.

It seems that the seed for the current increase was planted in 2002. After years of scrutiny over the way ODFW had handled its budget, and numerous layoffs in administration, the agency finally proposed the increase to an advisory committee. In the proposal it was pointed out that this was not an effort to make the department larger, but to maintain the current level of operation.

Because ODFW receives very little funding from the state's general fund, it was another blow when it was reduced to a fraction that same year.

Drastic cuts were the next eventuality. Almost 46 positions would have to be eliminated without an increase. After years of trimming administration, only nine positions would come from this sector. This left 36.5 positions to be cut from field service. This was broken down to about 15 fish biologists and 21 wildlife biologists.

In addition to the cut in the work force, there would be cuts in residual funding, which would include the closure of five fish hatcheries and funding sent to the Oregon State Police for two game enforcement positions.

Although the advisory committee was uneasy with the increase, it was uncomfortable with cuts in the level of services provided by the department. The recommendation was to send it to public meetings, which was done.

The public meetings generated much of the same response in that the people found the increase unsavory, but the thought of cuts in the level of service was downright distasteful.

The end result was a proposal sent to the Legislature in 2003, which was approved and went into effect this year.

Pressentin said there are no immediate plans for more increases, but if there are it probably won't be until 2008. She also mentioned there will be a public meeting April 26 at the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande.

How do I feel about the increases? At first it felt like it was just another gaffe in government spending.

After my conversation with Pressentin, I may grumble about it, but I see the need. And, as a sportsman, I'll pay to maintain the level of service we are now receiving.

Now I just have to find my wife a second job.

Frank Dixon is an East Oregonian press operator and an avid big game hunter. His column can be seen here every other week.

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