CONCORD — The state’s ATV registration numbers are exploding.
There were more than 6,500 new Off-Highway Road Vehicle licenses sold this past year, a record, worrying Executive Councilor Joe Kenney (R-Wakefield) and Fish and Game officials that they do not have enough enforcement help to manage a quickly growing and expanding ATV user group.
Jay Martin, programs information officer for the department, said in the 2016 season (May 1 to April 30) the state had 54,674 OHRV license sales, and it jumped in 2020 to 78,463.
The Executive Council on Thursday approved a transfer of $2.4 million in unexpended funds from excess registration fees to the OHRV account for the fiscal year 2021 leaving a big balance.
The transfer approval is contingent on the approval of the legislative fiscal committee. Scott Mason, Fish and Game’s executive director told the Council Wednesday this account is way over budget expectations and goes directly to the trails bureau.
Fish and Game collects all the money and then sends $74 from each snowmobile license to a separate snowmobile fund and $31 for ATV trails.
“My point is we are collecting a lot more in fees, but we probably are going to have a lot more. Are we looking at any more conservation officers?” Kenney asked Mason.
There are currently three openings for conservation officers, and Mason said he is working to fill those.
Mason said state Sens. David Watters (D-Durham) and Kevin Avard, (R-Nashua) have asked for information to possibly put more money in the Senate version of the budget to hire additional conservation officers.
“We know we need a larger presence in the field,” he told the council, particularly, in Coos County. “The question always comes back to financing and how are you going to pay for it.”
Kenney said he heard a bold public statement from Fish and Game Colonel Kevin Jordan that he had 30 conservation officers in the field but he could use 60.
“I see all this activity with registrations that to me that there will be a lot more driving activity and perhaps behavior that must be enforced,” he said.
The pass-through registration funds do not pose a way to pay for enforcement, just for trails and maintenance.
To deal with it, Mason said the department has authorized overtime to the North Country officers but noted a rescue or recovery effort in the woods or water would leave enforcement behind or short-staffed.
The department has about 200 employees, from biologists to publicists to conservation officers.
It is mostly a self-funded agency.
“There are those people that don’t want to see the money come from the general fund,” Mason said, and some feel that a lot of these duties are not paid for through license or user fees.
This includes search and rescue and he gave the example of conservation officers going to pet stores across the state to remove a product related to an invasive aquatic species, the zebra mussel.
“It’s one of our duties to go out and do this stuff, protect our waterways, but all of a sudden you have all these COs pulled off regular duty to go to pet stores, which is an odd place to see them.”
For license information go to eregulations.com/newhampshire/OHRV/.