Illinois DNR Makes Costly Mistake by Redefining 'Outfitter'

08/11/2016

The Illinois DNR, in what appears to be a stance against hunting leases, has broadened the definition of an “outfitter” to include hunting lease companies, booking agents and anyone else involved with marketing to hunters on behalf of landowners, tenants or even other outfitters.

According to the Illinois DNR an outfitter is now: any individual or business that solicits or secures waterfowl, deer and/or turkey hunting clients for a landowner or tenant or another outfitter.  (17 Ill. Adm Code Ch. 1, Sec. 640)

The United States Forest Service has a much different and more accurate definition of an outfitter. According to the Department of Agriculture (USFS) an outfitter is anyone: Providing through rental or livery any saddle or pack animal, vehicle or boat, tents, or camp gear, or similar supplies or equipment, for monetary compensation or other gain.

In other words, an outfitter is a business or person that provides equipment, gear, lodging, meals, transportation and/or a level of expertise about the specific area to be hunted. For those of us that actually hunt, the meaning of the word “outfitter” is plainly clear. Not so for the rules makers of the Illinois DNR sitting in their downtown Chicago offices. Apparently, the IDNR passed an amendment to Administrative rule 640 in June of 2015 adopting the new definition. For the record, the AHLA was not contacted prior to any hearing on the amendment, nor were any of the leasing companies serving landowners and farmers in Illinois.

Hunting lease companies provide a valuable service to landowners and farmers all over the United States. Most landowners simply don’t have the expertise, experience or time to properly market their properties on their own. Using a professional hunting leasing company allows them to realize a significant revenue source to supplement their income. Farmers and landowners across the country and in the State of Illinois are desperately searching for additional ways to generate revenue to keep pace with rising operational costs and property taxes. It is our experience that this additional revenue stream often can result in a farmer/landowner maintaining ownership of their farms instead of being forced to sell their ground piece by piece or entirely. Consequently, hunting leases have proven to be a valuable tool in preserving quality wildlife habitat, which in turn provides all states substantial revenue through license/ permit sales and all other hunting related tourism.

The IDNR made phone calls earlier this month (interestingly after the deadline to comply with the new rules had passed) to the handful of leasing companies doing business in Illinois and notified them of the new definition and subsequent requirements. Outfitter permit fees for deer, turkey and waterfowl could total $4000. A significant, if not crippling tax on smaller companies. However, the most alarming requirement is that “outfitters” must turn over their entire client lists to the state of Illinois. That list would include the names of every hunter and landowner and all of their contact information. The American Hunting Lease Association is strongly opposed to this violation of hunter’s and landowner’s privacy.

In its haste to burden a few companies, the IDNR made a big mistake. By its own definition now, booking agents, trade publications and even travel agents are now considered outfitters in Illinois. (re-read the definition if you need to)

Outfitters work closely with booking agents to sell open slots in the outfitter’s calendar. Nearly every outfitter uses booking agents to fill vacancies at one time or another. As most hunters know, Illinois is a very popular destination for outdoorsmen and women. Many travel from all over the country to hunt and spend money in Illinois. By requiring booking agents to pay for an outfitter permit ($2500 min/$4000 max) and submit their entire client list and contact information to the state, the Illinois DNR is severely hampering their ability and motivation to place hunts in Illinois. The outcome is easy to predict. Booking agents will have no choice but to discontinue selling hunts in Illinois and place their clients in surrounding states.  

Who loses with this inaccurate and broad definition?

·         Illinois landowners and farmersare the biggest losers. This is just another hurdle for them to overcome and makes earning additional income much more difficult.

·         Illinois outfitters (actual outfitters)will have valuable hunt slots go unfilled because booking agents will be unwilling to work in Illinois.

·         The State of Illinois tourism. By limiting the ability of farmers to market their hunting rights and outfitters to sell hunts, the number of non-resident hunters traveling to and spending money in Illinois will certainly decline.

·         Hunting lease companieswho will be forced to either close their businesses OR comply with the high permit fees and privacy infringing reporting requirements. (submitting client/landowner list and contact info to the state)

·         Resident and non-resident huntersthat enjoy leasing will find it harder to find leasing opportunities and/or find leasing prices have increased to offset the new requirements. 

·         Hundreds of booking agentsthat have placed hunters in Illinois for years will lose revenue.

·         EvenAccess Illinois a non-profit organization that solicits hunters through a membership model and connects them with farmers and landowners.

In an effort to better understand the reason for the change the AHLA reached out to the Illinois DNR. When we asked what purpose the new definition served or what problem was being solved, we were told it had no purpose and was not adopted to solve any problem. We were simply told that helping a landowner or farmer find hunters to lease their land was no different than actually taking someone hunting and putting them in a tree. Hence the tax.

We couldn’t disagree more.

Incredibly, the State of Illinois DNR is risking millions of dollars in revenue to its own citizens and business owners to put a few thousand in its own coffers.

The American Hunting Lease Association, has reached out to Illinois DNR Director Wayne Rosenthal and to Governor Bruce Rauner. We would welcome a meeting with either of these lawmakers to discuss a possible solution moving forward. In the meantime, the AHLA and its members are calling for the immediate suspension of the enforcement of this amendment until it can be reviewed and a better, more permanent solution can be found.  

If you would like to voice your concern and/or support the AHLA’s position, please send your comments to:

 DNR.Permits1@illinois.govand info@ahuntinglease.org