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Senior lifetime license program remains a work in progress

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia wildlife officials are hoping to launch a totally electronic licensing and game-checking system by 2014.

Until then, they'll probably continue to get complaints from hunters and anglers upset about the current licensing system.

I received an email recently from a senior citizen who has tried several times this fall and winter to pick up an application form for one of the new senior lifetime licenses. Each time, the reader went to his local license agent - a Walmart store - and each time, he was told they had no senior-license applications.

Ultimately, a Walmart clerk told the reader he should drive to a DNR office to pick up the application. Needless to say, the suggestion didn't go over too well.

"It shouldn't be this hard to get a license that I wouldn't have had to get if I was just one year older," the reader wrote. "You would think that the [Division of Natural Resources] would have applications at every license station since they had two years to get ready for this fiasco. I should not have to go out of my way to get a license."

I contacted DNR officials to find out if applications are really that hard to get, or if the reader's problem had been an isolated instance.

Curtis Taylor, chief of the agency's Wildlife Section, said all license agents have a special phone number they can call to request additional forms, licenses and stamps.

"When we get those calls, we usually get the stuff in the mail that very same day," Taylor added. "If a license agent has run out of forms and hasn't requested additional ones, we have no way of knowing to send out more."

He said large-volume agents such as Walmart ordinarily are sent more of everything.

"Those [senior-license] applications are duplicate forms that come in pads, 25 to each pad and 200 to a box. Any Walmart would have been sent a bunch of forms. If they run out, all they have to do is let us know and we'll send them more."

Taylor said the reader's inability to get an application was the first senior license-related complaint he'd received.

"All the information so far has been positive," he explained. "We're right there in the ballpark with [the number] we thought we would sell in the first year. Sales have been good. So far, we're pretty pleased."

DNR officials began selling the licenses to gain a larger share of federal excise taxes specially earmarked for fish and wildlife programs. License sales are one of the factors that determine how much money each state gets, and West Virginia was losing money because it didn't require people 65 and older to purchase licenses.

Rather than burden seniors with having to purchase annual licenses, DNR officials got the bright idea of creating a one-time $25 "senior lifetime license" that had to be purchased by anyone who turned 65.

The feds agreed to give West Virginia 10 years' worth of benefit for every senior lifetime license sold. The money will benefit many of the state's fish- and game-enhancement projects.

Every new DNR initiative, including the senior license, has growing pains in its initial stages. My reader's difficulty getting an application is a case in point.

All this should be rendered moot within a year or so, which is when agency officials hope to do away with traditional licenses and go to a fully electronic system. All licenses would be purchased via computer, smart phone or electronic tablet, and all big-game animals would be checked electronically.

At least that's the plan.


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