GILLETTE - The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has approved cuts proposed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to their Fiscal Year 14 budget. The commission approved the budget reductions at their meeting last week in Gillette and will take final action on the entire FY 14 budget at their July 8-10 meeting in Saratoga.
Facing increasing costs and declining revenues, the department will cut their FY 14 budget by 6.5 percent. These cuts are in addition to a 3 percent reduction to the FY 13 budget. The reduced FY14 budget is the first phase of a multi-year strategy to ensure anticipated revenue will support future expenditures. The department is in the initial stages of reducing its FY 15 budget by an additional $3 million.
“These cuts include reductions in personnel and programs across the agency,” said WGFD Director Scott Talbott. “This level of cuts will be felt internally and externally. We are continuing to work with the public and the legislature to find solutions to the revenue problems facing the department.”
Included in the cuts to the commission’s budget are reductions in personnel costs by not filling some currently vacant positions and reductions of department budgets for access and conservation easements. Fish stocking will be reduced by as much as 20 percent. Other cuts include: reducing the department’s vehicle fleet and reducing employee travel; reducing the number of issues of Wyoming Wildlife Magazine from 12 to 6 annually; eliminating the department’s Leadership Development Program used to prepare employees for future leadership positions within the agency; reducing contributions to the University of Wyoming Co-op research program; and eliminating the annual Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo, which takes place every year in Casper.
Other programs affected include: habitat and sensitive species projects; capital improvements to fish hatcheries and other department facilities; the Access Atlas for sportsmen (no printed version but will still be available online); Wild Times publication for kids; National Archery in the Schools Program; and National Fishing in the Schools Program. Many additional cuts are being implemented throughout the department. (See the list below for more detailed information about these reductions.)
The department receives a majority (80 percent) of its funding from license sales and other fees paid by hunters and anglers. Throughout its history the Wyoming Legislature has approved periodic license fee increases to keep pace with rising costs and increasing responsibilities. The last license fee increase was in 2008. Inflation continues to increase the cost of doing business, and lower-than-desired deer and antelope productivity in many parts of the state in recent years has required issuance of fewer hunting licenses, reducing annual revenue.
Nearly 80 percent of the department’s annual expenditures are mandated by current statutes and state rules, including such items as wildlife damage payments, payments to other state agencies for services provided, health care costs, and pay scales for all department positions. With these mandates and no additional revenue, the only way to ensure future department expenditures can be supported by current revenue is by cutting programs and personnel that will impact the public.
“The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will continue to evaluate program efficiencies with a focus on reducing costs,” said Talbott. “But without additional revenue, future budget cuts will be necessary and all aspects of the department’s operations will be affected including core programs.”
The department will begin work now to identify approximately $3 million in further reductions for FY 15. Those proposed reductions will be available for public comment this summer, then presented to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission for their consideration in March 2014.
The personnel and programs listed below are a partial accounting of the reductions for certain WGFD budgets in FY 14:
Personnel and related costs – $990,000 reduction
Three full-time positions have been frozen per direction from the Governor’s Office, and another nine full-time permanent positions recently vacated will be kept vacant until decisions on future position cuts have been made in 2013.
Reductions in overtime and holiday pay will result in decreased field presence for most field employees, including game wardens, wildlife investigators, fish and wildlife biologists, habitat management area maintenance crews, and others.Office personnel will also be affected, resulting in potentially slower response time assisting the public. Eligible employees will either not be allowed to work more than the minimum number of hours per month or earn time-off in lieu of monetary payment, resulting in lower presence in the field and office.
These personnel actions are in addition to the elimination of two full-time permanent positions in 2011 and elimination of nine full-time permanent positions in 2012.
Operating costs (supplies, equipment, travel, vehicles, etc.) - $1,322,000 reduction
The department will reduce funding for improvements and maintenance of bird farms, boating access, regional offices, warden stations, and property development (including easements and fee title lands). WGFD personnel will complete fewer aerial big game surveys and fewer ground surveys and harvest checks. A reduced amount of data will make it more difficult to determine big game herd sizes and number of animals available for harvest.
Projects, one-time purchases, reimbursable grants – $2,355,000 reduction
The department will reduce funding for access easements and land acquisitions, potentially reducing access opportunities for hunters and anglers. There will be reduced funding for on-the-ground fish and wildlife habitat projects, potentially affecting habitat quantity and quality and future wildlife numbers. The department will also reduce fish and wildlife surveys (in addition to aerial surveys).
Postponement in fish hatchery upgrades – $463,000 reduction
The department will not purchase equipment to improve the oxygen supply for the health and increased survival rate of two native cutthroat trout brood stocks and associated stocking programs. Additionally, there will be postponements in normal maintenance and planned upgrades to fish hatcheries, further reducing future stocking capacities and stress hatchery equipment and facilities.
Fish stocking - $67,000 reduction
The department will not stock fish in some reservoirs at the level recommended by local biologists. Stocking reductions for 2014 under consideration include:
50,000 trout in Pathfinder Reservoir
10,000 trout in Alcova Reservoir
40,000 trout in Seminoe Reservoir
10,000 trout in Boysen Reservoir
70,000 trout and 300,000 kokanee salmon in Flaming Gorge Reservoir
12,000 trout in Crystal Reservoir
60,000 trout in Lake Hattie Reservoir
50,000 trout in Lake DeSmet
Fish passage projects - $44,000 reduction
Many Wyoming streams and rivers have barriers that prevent fish from traveling to areas needed for spawning and other important habitat requirements. Additionally, irrigation diversions frequently trap fish in areas where they cannot survive. These obstructions can significantly lower fish numbers, reduce fishing opportunities, and impact the conservation of sensitive species such as the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Fish passage funds are directed toward supplies, contractors, and nonprofit organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, who use volunteer labor and employ local businesses to improve fish passage by eliminating or mitigating barriers. Budget reductions will reduce the number and associated resources for fish passage projects in the state.
Public hunting and fishing access easements - $350,000 reduction
The department will nearly eliminate funding for new access or conservation easements and land acquisitions to provide public access for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing as well as to protect crucial habitat. These funds are typically highly leveraged as match for other state and federal access and habitat conservation dollars, resulting in beneficial impacts for the public and wildlife.
Elimination of printing public hunting and fishing walk-in areas atlas - $50,000 reduction
The department will no longer print its atlas of public hunting and fishing walk-in areas established through its Private Land/Public Wildlife Walk-in program. The atlas contains maps and descriptions of walk-in areas by county. Sportsmen will still be able to access and print this information from the department’s website.
Educational publications - $ 270,000 reduction
Reductions to educational programs will affect the public’s ability to stay informed on the many interesting, complex, and changing issues facing Wyoming’s wildlife. The department will no longer publish Wild Times, an educational publication distributed to all Wyoming fourth graders. The department will also reduce the number of issues of Wyoming Wildlife magazine from 12 to six annually. The department will also no longer publish its annual wildlife calendar.
Elimination of National Archery in the Schools program - $15,000 reduction
The National Archery in the School Program (NASP) provides equipment and training to school personnel to introduce students to archery and advance archery skills. The department has also traditionally hosted the state NASP tournament.
Elimination of National Fishing in the Schools - $15,000 reduction
The National Fishing in the Schools Program teaches fishing related skills to Wyoming students. The program trains teachers and provides fishing equipment. About ten Wyoming schools will be impacted.
Elimination of Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo - $120,000 reduction
The annual Expo reached 12,000 to 15,000 people each year (including around 8,000 students). Expo participants learned about the value of wildlife in our world as well as the benefits of conservation and how to recreate safely and responsibly in the outdoors.
Information and technology upgrades - $188,000 reduction
The department will eliminate or delay many planned upgrades to hardware and software to keep pace with technology, to support personnel in completing their jobs, and to improve the department’s ability to sell hunting and fishing licenses as well as communicate with the public.
Elimination of employee Leadership Development program – $150,000 reduction
Much of the current leadership of the department is or will soon be eligible for retirement. This program provided leadership training so employees will be prepared to effectively assume leadership positions. Elimination of this program will impact the development and mentoring of employees.
Out-of-state travel for coordination and training - $46,000 reduction
This reduction will reduce the ability of department employees to attend conferences and workshops to coordinate with neighboring states on cross-boundary wildlife issues. Reductions will also diminish training opportunities for employees on the latest wildlife management techniques and issues.
Regional office maintenance and upkeep - $210,000 reduction
Critical and essential repairs to prevent the deterioration of regional offices will be accounted for in the budget; minor items such as painting, fence replacement, window and door replacement, and others, will be reduced or delayed.
Janitorial services and landscape maintenance for regional offices - $31,000 reduction
Janitorial and landscape maintenance services for regional offices that were contracted to private individuals in the local communities will now be completed by department employees, diverting time away from other wildlife management or public service activities.
Research dollars to the Wyoming Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit - $115,000 reduction
The Wyoming Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit serves as the research arm of the department. Budget reductions will result in less research to aid management decision for priority issues such as population connectivity,habitat requirements, life-history, energy impacts, and others. For example, the world-class fishery on the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River is a direct result of the COOP Unit’s research on adequate flushing flows for fish.
Contributions to Wyoming Wildlife – the Foundation - $85,000 reduction
The department will eliminate contributions to the foundation (a component of the Wyoming Community Fund). The Foundation is involved in conservation education and funding Wyoming wildlife management projects, as well as active involvement in the department’s Landowner of the Year program and the Wyoming Hall of Fame.
Grant money to nonprofit organizations for habitat work - $51,000 reduction
There will be reductions in money provided to nonprofit conservation organizations for wetland habitat enhancement and restoration work.
Convenience facilities at Wildlife Habitat Management Areas - $30,000 reduction
The department will not build two handicap parking pads for outhouses at the Wick and Pennock Mountain Wildlife Habitat Management Areas. The department will also not build a stack yard to protect hay on the South Park elk feedground.
Fence maintenance on Habitat Management Areas - $22,000 reduction
The department will not hire seasonal employees who were responsible for fence maintenance and repair on Wildlife Habitat Management Areas to better manage forage for wildlife.
Hunter recruitment and school educational supplies - $5,000 reduction
The department will reduce funding for supplies to support instructors and teachers of hunter recruitment, hunter education, and school wildlife educational programs.
Game and Fish would like to hear your thoughts on recent budget discussions
(Contact: Eric Keszler (307) 777-4594)