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Outdoors Alliance Wants Piece of Vermont Sales Tax

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Published July 23, 2008 at 5:34 a.m.

A coalition of groups dedicated to supporting wildlife recreation in Vermont wants the state to set aside a portion of the sales tax to fund the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

George Gay, of the 2-year-old Vermont Wildlife Partnership (VWP), said the state's "wildlife legacy" benefits all Vermonters, but that funding challenges are a growing concern.

"Vermonters are consistently in favor of finding new ways to help support a resource that directly affects the quality of life in this state," Gay said. "Our goal is to make that vision a reality."

The great outdoors is a staple of Vermont's mystique and integral to its identity. It's also big business. Wildlife recreation - hunting, fishing and wildlife watching - boosts the state's economy to the tune of about $400 million a year, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Yet, state fish and wildlife agencies have struggled to bag enough cash to protect the resources that attract thousands of hunters, fishers, hikers and anglers annually.

In the last two decades, sales of hunting licenses have dropped, from 111,542 to just 83,089 in 2007; in the last eight years, hunting-license revenues dropped from $2.88 million to $2.47 million. The number of fishing licenses sold has also been on the decline, decreasing from 161,014 in 1987 to 126,512 last year, although, thanks to fee increases, revenues from fishing licenses have remained at about $3.2 million annually.

The VWP came out of a panel appointed by Gov. Jim Douglas that was charged with finding options to stabilize funding for the Department of Fish & Wildlife. The sales tax was one option, but Douglas ultimately rejected the idea.

To make its case for a redistribution of state sales tax, the VWP has hired a public-relations firm, Pale Morning Media, which specializes in the outdoors. The initiative is being funded by the Northern Forest Alliance, which received a $75,000 grant this year from the Wildlife Conservation Society to advocate for the redistribution.