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Once you've freed up time in your business, family, and community schedules, you want to enjoy Wisconsin's lakes, forests and parks without wasting a minute. You told us so, and we got the message.
Almost six years ago, the Department of Natural Resources began planning a new way to vend outdoor licenses and permits so customers could purchase them more quickly and conveniently. That automated system is being installed and tested now. By mid-March, every DNR station, county office, sporting goods shop, hardware store, marina and bait shop that sells licenses and indicated an interest by last December should be linked to the new system. A companion toll-free phone system will allow license purchases any time, day or night.
The Automated License Issuance System (ALIS) provides flexibility to accommodate the meticulous vacation planners who pack their bags two months before an outing as well as those spontaneous day trippers who decide at 6 p.m. Friday to head up North for the weekend and want to buy their licenses through the car phone.
To make it happen, the Department of Natural Resources had to move a step away from paper licenses and stubs. The agency invested about $10 million in technology and training to incorporate electronic point-of-purchase transfers similar to credit card purchases into the licensing system.
The system is streamlined, but will not replace all paper licenses with a plastic outdoor credit card. Outdoor users will still need to buy licenses to fish, hunt deer or pursue small game, but these licenses will look different.
"We interviewed and surveyed customers more than four years ago to guide this system," said Marilyn Davis, director of DNR's Bureau of Customer Services. "Customers told us they wanted more durable licenses that fit into their wallets. They told us they didn't care about having outdoor recreational stamps if they could have outdoor privileges incorporated on their licenses at the time of purchase.
"Customers said they were tired of running around to several different outlets trying to find a vendor who had not run out of the license they wanted to buy," Davis added. "And they wanted us to use technology to cut the amount of time it takes to purchase licenses."
In many ways, buying a hunting or fishing license using Wisconsin's new Automated License Issuance System won't be much different than it used to be. You will head to a place that sells DNR licenses, tell the seller which licenses you want, show some identification, pay your fee and receive your licenses. But automation offers some new conveniences at each step of the license sale along with changes in a few procedures, especially for first-time customers.
Here's a rundown on what to expect:
Buying a license in person – More than 1,400 DNR-authorized agents will offer licenses at sporting goods stores, bait shops, hardware stores, resorts and marinas. You may also buy licenses atDNR Service Centers, which offer information about hunting and fishing seasons, regulations, state park and forest maps. Pick the site that's most convenient for you. You don't have to use the same location each time you buy a license; once you're part of the automated system, any authorized agent can locate your automated customer record and sell you a license.
Each location hooked up with the ALIS equipment will offer a complete selection of DNR licenses including hunting, fishing and trapping licenses, patron's licenses, duplicate licenses, even parks admission stickers. Because licenses will be printed on demand, no licensing station will run out of inventory and several licenses can be printed on the same form at the same time.
The first time you buy a license under the new system, you're considered a "new" customer. The license agent will ask for identification. If you have a new Wisconsin driver's license or Wisconsin ID card, the ALIS system can read this information from the encoded magnetic strip. Older driver's licenses feature a special number that the agent can enter to accomplish the same task.
Residents who don't drive and nonresidents should provide a picture ID or other form of identification. They will be asked to complete a New Buyer's Form the first time a purchase is made on the ALIS system. The buyer will receive a copy of that form which should be carried along with the license. The other copy of the form will be sent to the Department of Natural Resources by the license agent so that name and address information can be entered into the ALIS system.
A Social Security number will be requested the first time all customers buy a license. Thereafter, buyers will receive a unique DNR customer number, which will automatically link to name and address information to hasten all subsequent purchases.
Customers concerned that licensing agents or others will have access to their Social Security numbers can rest easy. Those numbers will not appear on the license.
"New state and federal law require us to ask customers for their Social Security numbers for one reason only," Davis explained. "The numbers are provided to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development solely to determine if the applicant is delinquent in making child support payments."
Customers can also buy licenses for other people who have filled out and signed a DNR application form specifically designed for this purpose. Even parents who want to buy licenses for their children will need to complete this form with their offspring ahead of time. Applications are available at DNR Service Centers.
Once the sales agent has entered basic data about you into ALIS, the system assigns your permanent DNR customer number that will be printed on all licenses and receipts. Transactions for recreational licenses, permits, and special permit applications in subsequent years will be more easily and accurately processed," Davis said.
The licenses will be printed immediately on durable waterproof stock – good news for those of us who have watched our outdoor privileges wash, rinse, spin and die in the laundry when a fishing license or trail pass was left in a shirt pocket.
When your purchase is complete, a two-ply receipt will list the types and prices of each license, the total fee, and your DNR customer ID number. You will be asked to sign the receipt and a statement declaring your residency. The sales agent will give you one copy of the receipt.
Each licensing agent will have a supply of outdoor regulations for each license or permit privilege purchased. A button on the ALIS machine will allow licensing agents to order a supply of regulations quickly as supplies start to dwindle.
Buying a license over the telephone – A toll-free phone number 1-877-945-4236 allowing customers to purchase DNR recreational licenses every day at any time will be available this spring.
Callers will be asked which licenses they wish to purchase. They will also be asked to provide the same information as if they were buying a license in person at an outlet equipped with the ALIS terminals.
The operator will tally the charges. All phone orders must be paid for with major credit cards. A $3 handling charge will be added to each phone order to cover costs of compiling and mailing license regulations and other documents to each phone customer.
At the time of the phone transaction, the customer will be given an authorization number. Licenses, permits and regulations will be mailed shortly thereafter.
The authorization number will allow the customer to enjoy "instant privileges" for licenses that don't require a hunting carcass tag. Those buying a deer gun license or archery hunting license will have to wait until receiving the back tag in the mail to hunt.
The phone service will likely be popular with vacationing residents or nonresidents, who can call in a license application and quickly head out the door to start fishing with their authorization number in hand. In fact, for short-term licenses of two to 15 days, there may be no reason to mail the actual license at all once the transaction is complete and the authorization number has been issued.
Deer hunters will find that most procedures will be similar to the present system, but more convenient. The deer hunting license will be printed directly on the back tag. A separate carcass tag will be printed on the same durable material which has a peel-off sticky backing that allows licenses to be conveniently folded to fit in a wallet and carcass tags to be affixed to harvested deer.
ALIS will also change the way hunters apply for special permit applications for hunter's choice, goose permits, turkey permits and the like. Instead of paying $3 for an application form, the customer will pay $3 for a sticker that will contain the customer number and a bar code. The customer will apply the sticker to a free application form and fill out the rest of the information that we currently ask for – unit designation, landowner information and choice of a hunting zone or period. The coded sticker will better ensure that applications are understood and forwarded to the proper person at a current address.
Conservation patrons may find license renewal even easier. They, too, will have the option of renewing licenses by mail, over the phone or at any ALIS location.
Stamp privileges (Great Lakes salmon and trout; inland trout; pheasant; turkey; waterfowl) will be printed directly on your fishing or hunting license. Collectors can still pick up a commemorative stamp at DNR Service Centers to keep as a memento. The only actual stamp hunters will still have to carry is a federal duck stamp required to hunt migratory waterfowl.
Hunter safety course graduates will be asked to present the certificate issued by Wisconsin or another state when buying hunting licenses. License agents will also ask you to write down the certificate number on the sales receipt and sign your name. Once that data is entered into your customer record, you won't have to present the certificate to make a license purchase.
DNR conservation wardens can call a toll-free number at any time to verify license sales. If, for example, you're from another state or you move to another state and try to claim Wisconsin residency to dodge higher nonresident license fees, the warden can discover this through ALIS – so be forewarned.
Great Lakes charter boat captains will still be authorized to sell two-day sport fishing licenses and Great Lakes trout and salmon stamps for their customers who arrive for pre-dawn charters without a license.
State parks stickers also can be purchased through ALIS. For a daily pass, display your receipt on the driver's side of the dashboard, in a spot where it can be seen through the windshield.
If an annual admission sticker has been purchased, redeem the receipt for a window decal at the first park office or trail you visit.
If the park office is not staffed when you arrive, display your receipt on the driver's side dashboard so it is visible through the windshield.
To reduce the chance of losing or misplacing a receipt, exchange it for a decal as soon as possible.
State parks trail passes can be purchased at DNR Service Centers and state parks properties equipped with ALIS terminals.
As in past years, vehicle admission stickers for state parks will also be sold at all DNR Service Centers, state parks, forests, state parks trails and recreation areas.
The process for making reservations at state park campgrounds is also being automated. Our next issue will carry details about the toll-free phone reservation system.
Conditions often change between the time people buy outdoor licenses, make their plans and take their trips. DNR relies on newspapers and broadcast media to spread the word when floods close trails, diseases affect wildlife, and special seasons are set for fishing and hunting. With the ALIS system, all of the more than 1,400 license outlets can become valuable sources of information as well.
The computerized system includes a broadcast feature so short messages can be sent to each terminal and printed out for display. For example, when violent weather blows down trees or floods state trails, when waterfowl seasons are opened or closed in late fall, or when new units are opened for fall deer hunting permits, DNR can broadcast short details of those changes to each outlet. That can make the corner bait shop, convenience store or sporting goods store another important source of information for outdoor enthusiasts.
"Our licensing agents told us they would be willing to do more to inform the license-buying public about changes if we just developed a way to talk to them more often," Davis said. "We want to form those partnerships and use these 1,400 voices to spread the word when changes happen."
All of the outlets where recreational licenses now are sold were given the opportunity to sign up as outlets for the new system. Most of the outlets chose to stay in the system, as the costs were very reasonable and the service brings in customers. License agents will pay a one-time security deposit on the computer equipment, which will be refunded if the site is subsequently closed. The ALIS equipment has been installed at about 100 test sites at DNR offices and stores. The remaining 1,300 sites will receive ALIS equipment by mid-March. More than 200 additional businesses and offices have expressed interest in selling recreational licenses.
Each outlet will have three pieces of equipment – an electronic keypad to choose licenses and enter information about license purchasers, a printer to produce licenses and hunting back tags, and a receipt printer similar to those used for credit cards to print two-ply receipts of all transactions. Once the equipment is hooked up, those selling DNR recreational licenses will be trained, and a "help desk" will be staffed around the clock to answer questions. The terminal itself prompts the seller through each sales transaction.
Sellers will continue to receive a 50-cent commission on each license sale. Sales records will be collected automatically and funds will be transferred automatically on a weekly basis. This is a vast improvement over the previous system, in which receipts were forwarded to DNR periodically and the dollars customers spent on licenses took a long time to be returned to the state treasury and allocated to the Department of Natural Resources to fund outdoor programs.
Whether you decide to buy your recreational licenses via phone or at an outlet, automation should provide an easier, quicker ticket to enjoy the outdoors.
David L. Sperling edits Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine; Wendy K. Weisensel is a senior public affairs manager for the DNR in Madison.