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Wyoming's Wildlife Management
The Tradition of Wildlife Management in Wyoming
Wyoming Territory

Even before Wyoming became a state, people in the area started to see the importance of their wildlife and other natural resources, and the danger of not taking care of them. They began to make game and fish laws and licensing procedures that often served as models for other states.

The first territorial legislature in Wyoming passed the "Act for the Protection of Game and Fish in the \Territory of Wyoming". This was in 1869. This act restricted the sale of big game meat, set dates when upland birds could be hunted, and stated that trout could be caught only "singly" - with a hook and line. Although the law was hard to enforce, it showed a very early concern for wildlife by the people. The position of "state"fish commissioner was established in 1879. Other laws that were passed in 1882 set the first big game seasons(Aug. 1 - Nov. 15), stated that nets and dams in streams must allow for fish passage, and were among the first to try to control water pollution.

The loss of many types of wildlife was becoming critical around this time. In 1876, 80,000 buffalo hides were shipped from the Wyoming region to Missouri. Eight years later, in 1884, no buffalo hides were shipped.In 1889, the last wild buffalo outside Yellowstone National Park was killed. By the early 1900s the number of deer, elk, moose and antelope had also decreased to very low levels and these once common animals were often hard to find.

Statehood

Wyoming became the 44th state in 1890. In 1895, the fish commissioner also became the state game warden.Twenty unpaid deputy wardens were appointed throughout the state. A separate office of State Game Warden was established in 1899 and funds were made available to pay assistant state wardens $1-$3/day of service. This same year, the legislature passed a large number of laws concerning wildlife conservation. Many of these laws are still in effect today, over 100 years later.

The new ideas of issuing and requiring licenses for hunting was being tried in several states about this time.Wyoming's first hunting license was started around 1895. This license had tear-off coupons attached for each of the game animals to be hunted that were to be removed and mailed to the state game warden. Once the coupon was used, no more of that species could be hunted. The license cost $1.00 for residents of the state and $20.00 for nonresidents. By 1908, the fees had increased to $2.00 for residents and $50.00 for nonresidents. Residents were only required to have a license if they hunted outside their home counties.

The enactment of hunting license laws served two major purposes. First, it allowed for the protection of game by controlling hunting. And secondly, it served as a mechanism for raising revenue for use in the management of the state's wildlife. Wyoming's idea of licensing hunters was catching on across the country. Two-thirds of the states now required hunters to purchase licenses and many of the older states had just recently copied the Wyoming system.

Licenses for fishing were still not required at the time the hunting license laws were enacted. The first fishing license bill was proposed in 1911, but was not passed until 1919.

Wyoming Game & Fish Commission

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission was created in 1921. The original commission consisted of the governor,secretary of state, state auditor, the game and fish commissioner appointed by the governor, and the assistant commissioner. Four years later the makeup of the commission was changed to 6 citizens from throughout the state appointed by the governor, with no more than 3 from one political party, and with staggered 6 year terms. There are now 7 commissioners, with no more than 4 from the same political party. The purpose of the Commission is to coordinate all efforts related to managing the state's wildlife.

Wyoming Game & Fish Department

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) manages all the wildlife within the sate (not just game animals)for the benefit of all the people of the state and for the generations of the people in the future. It takes many people with different talents to do this. The department employs over 400 people throughout the state,including biologists, engineers, educators, game wardens and many others.

At the present time, the WGFD is responsible for over 600 species of animals in the state. Of these, about100 are considered game animals and are either hunted or fished, while over 500 are nongame animals that maybe abundant, uncommon, threatened, or endangered.

By law, wildlife are owned by all the people in the state and not by any one person, or group. This is what is called a "public trust". If someone set up a trust fund at a bank for you, somebody other than you would manage the money in the best way possible for you. This person would be called a "trustee". You wouldn't get to take any of the trust funds; they would always be there. But you could spend all the interest. Similarly, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and other agencies throughout the country take care of the wildlife for the public. The Department does not own the wildlife, but is responsible for managing it for you and for future generations. And just like interest from the bank, the excess production can be used by hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, etc.The department also keeps you informed about wildlife, and responds to the interests and needs of the public.

Along with this responsibility to you and the public, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department has an equal responsibility to the animals and their habitat. This responsibility is to improve the amount and quality of the available habitat and then maintain all species present within the carrying capacity of that habitat. This involves preventing overpopulation by very common species, giving protection to threatened or endangered species, and improving the habitat for all of them. With proper management, the public can continue to use the outdoors (by hunting, fishing, camping,wildlife watching and other forms of outdoor recreation) while the wildlife and their habitat are maintained and improved for enjoyment by people in the future.

Wyoming Big Game Population Estimates

Animal

1923*

2000

Pronghorn

13,330

457,146

Mule Deer

20,330

544,875

Elk

22,572

105,868

Moose

3,725

14,400

Bighorn Sheep

2,585

6,483

"Bear"

1,492

??????

Bison

24

2 - 4,000

*First systematic census

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