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Alaska editorial: Lifetime licenses worth a look

Posted: Monday, September 27, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Sweet deal for a 25-year-old Alaskan who loves to slay salmon: Put up $240 and be licensed to fish here for the rest of your life, no matter where you may roam. Or fork over $490 for fishing and hunting for life. Or $640 to fish and hunt and trap.

That upfront investment would fetch a permanent plastic, laminated license and a suitable-for-framing certificate for the wall. And that young Alaskan would never have to remember to buy a license again. (Tags and permits would be extra, and all other restrictions would apply).

The proposal is the latest by Ethan Berkowitz, the Democratic candidate for governor, in his Alaska Ownership Stake, what he's calling a strategic plan to harness Alaska's resources, initiative and the power of the free market to benefit all Alaskans.

We're not ready to vote yea or nay yet on what Berkowitz has proposed so far - the license idea and his plan to allow Alaskans to invest their Permanent Fund dividends in a gas line project. But give the man credit for not standing pat.

As Berkowitz pointed out at a Park Strip press conference Sept. 16, lifetime licenses are already offered in 27 states. California allows its fishers and hunters to buy at a price based on age, with those from ages 10 and 39 paying the most. California residents also can buy a premium package for more money that also covers special tags and permits. The lifetime license money goes into a fish and game fund.

Similarly, Berkowitz wants the Alaska lifetime license fees to go for fish and game management and habitat.

Alaska already offers a lifetime program for seniors, beginning at age 60, that costs nothing. You could call this a "rest-of-your-lifetime license." Two years ago, the state began to offer free licenses to disabled vets.

Berkowitz said license sales would provide an immediate boost in revenue to the state Department of Fish and Game, be an official, permanent recognition of Alaskans' right to fish, hunt and trap, and would encourage former Alaskans to return and bring friends, family and tourism dollars with them.

Jennifer Yuhas, spokeswoman for Fish and Game, agreed in an e-mail that lifetime license fees likely would boost funding up front, but beyond that the department is reserving judgment. In an e-mail, she wrote there were questions about inflation-proofing Fish and Game revenue, and possible loss of nonresident license sales. She said Berkowitz had not vetted his proposal with Fish and Game.

Berkowitz, a former state House minority leader, said he'd expect a thorough vetting by lawmakers and the department. He's flexible on terms and costs.

The state would have to be sure of a reliable revenue stream. While the experiences of other states would be helpful, Alaska has some of the most intense, difficult and expensive fish and game field work in the country. The principle of sustained yield must apply to revenue as well as fish and game management.

The numbers need crunching, but it's an idea worth a longer look. If nothing else, a lifetime Alaska fishing and/or hunting license would be an upfront investment in Alaska that could pay off in more ways than one for those who stay.

For those who leave, at the least it would be a better souvenir than a vanity vehicle plate.

Lifetime license to hunt and fish in Alaska has a nice ring to it, but let's be sure of the details.



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