By the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the Havre Daily News
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks' new computer-based licensing system surpassed the 1 million mark in sales about a week before Sunday's opening of Montana's general big game hunting season.
On Oct. 18, nearly 400 automated licensing system providers statewide had sold more than 1 million licenses, including hunting, fishing and trapping licenses, state parks entrance passes and other licenses.
The arrival of ALS, launched by FWP in March, ended 100 years of writing or typing information on licenses, storing copies and then shipping carbon copies and fees to Helena. The new computer system ran smoothly for most of the year, but did bog down earlier this year during high-traffic times.
"Our ALS team made several improvements to the system to address performance, and we continue to make improvements to help make things as convenient as possible," said Barney Benkelman, chief of FWP's Information Technology Bureau and ALS project manager.
As of last week, about 300,000 men, 80,000 women, and 20,000 youngsters under 16 years of age made a variety of ALS purchases, generating nearly $14 million in sales. So far, the top sales month was May, with about 219,000 transactions. The top sales day was May 31, when more than 23,000 purchases were made between 6:53 a.m. and 11:32 p.m. as hunters throughout Montana rushed to meet Montana's June 1 big game application deadline.
ALS connects all license providers to FWP via a communication web that delivers information back and forth between a central database and the license providers' on-site computers.
ALS statistics show that the state's top three commercial ALS providers are Sportsmen's Surplus in Missoula, Snappy Sports Center in Kalispell and Scheel's All Sports in Great Falls. The top three license providers among FWP's regional headquarters are FWP Region 5 in Billings, Region 1 in Kalispell and Region 4 in Great Falls. The top three counties for license sales, however, are Gallatin, Missoula and Yellowstone.
To date, about 206,000 fishing licenses, 100,000 elk licenses, 87,000 deer licenses and 12,300 state parks passports have been sold.
"In the past, it would take months to generate this kind of basic license sales information," Benkelman said. "ALS offers the potential to make things faster and more efficient, and it should only get better."
Once an individual acquires a license through ALS, license providers need only to request a person's ALS number for all future license purchases. For residents, proof of residency in the form of a picture ID is also required. In addition to improved customer service, ALS has several spin-off benefits. ALS's database allows FWP to communicate directly with license providers and, through them, with hunters, anglers and other recreationists. For instance, FWP can search the ALS database to identify and directly contact appropriate hunters to alert them about landowner concerns, grizzly bear activity, or unexpected road closures.