Thursday’s editorial hopes legislators will overcome their qualms about a fee increase to institute DNR’s proposed rule to limit deer hunting and begin a tagging system in the state.
Some readers will see in their Neighbors section today that 8-year-old Trace Scott of Myrtle Beach harvested his first deer last week, a proud accomplishment for the young man.
Announcements such as these could become rarer in the coming years. The state’s deer population has fallen 25 percent from its peak of more than 1.1 million animals in the late ’90s, and the state has no limits on how many deer a hunter can take each year. That could change with a proposal from the state Department of Natural Resources this past week.
The DNR has been gathering information on proposed limits on buck hunting since at least 2003, conducting multiple surveys and meetings across the state – including Conway – to gauge public opinion. Hunters have expressed a strong vote for introducing tags to limit buck harvesting, with more than 70 percent supporting a limit of five bucks or fewer per year, and 70 percent also supporting a nominal fee to cover the cost of enforcing the program and managing the deer population.
With the support of hunters in their back pocket, DNR’s governing board voted on Dec. 17 to support “a statewide limit of four bucks per hunter per year, and a mandatory deer tagging program whereby all harvested deer (bucks and does) must be tagged at the point of kill with tags provided by the department. A nominal fee of $5 per tag for residents and $25 per tag for nonresidents is proposed.”
The tags are a good idea, long overdue to protect the state’s shrinking deer population and already in place in most other states. The Upstate region does have a limit on bucks, but without a tagging system it is virtually unenforceable. The four-buck limit also seems a fine compromise. In 2009, the average hunter in the state bagged fewer than two deer. The 5,000 or so hunters in Horry and Georgetown counties harvested a little more than 8,000 deer over the year.
It’s rare that residents signal their willingness to pay more to government and government turns them down. But the suggestion to limit deer hunting may suffer just such a fate.
The complication comes in the form of a Republican legislature and governor who have pledged not to raise taxes or fees – including hunting fees – as the state continues to climb out of its economic slump. DNR does not have the authority to implement the change itself, and can only ask the legislature to make the adjustment.
Rep. Nelson Hardwick, a Surfside Beach Republican, finds himself in a strong position to influence the proposal’s future, having just secured the chairmanship of the House’s Agriculture Committee, which oversees matters such as these. Contacted Wednesday, he said he had not yet had time to look over the details of DNR’s suggestion, but he sounded loath to raise fees without a good reason.
“They’ll need to come in and be prepared to convince us that it’s something that is necessary,” Hardwick said.
We would argue that seven years of public surveys and support from a clear majority of residents make a pretty strong case in the proposal’s favor. Nevertheless, as Hardwick said, “no matter how flat you press a pancake, it has two sides,” and there’s always the chance that DNR is trying to make up revenue lost elsewhere in the budget.
In that case, we could hardly blame them, given the drastic cuts every agency has had to make and faces in the coming year. And we would still support this proposal. If the fee – which hunters are willing to pay – can free up funds and mean fewer cuts elsewhere in the agency, it seems a win-win. We hope that legislators and the governor will see it the same way and make an exception for this increase. It should be easy to get behind an option that most residents support and that would protect our wildlife population for years to come.