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CHEYENNE - On November 9, 2012, the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Committee approved two Wyoming Game and Fish Department (Department) funding bills for consideration during the 2013 general session. The first bill would provide the Department with license fee adjustments. Fee prices were reduced from those initially recommended by the Department, but provided the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, subject to legislative oversight, the ability to annually index license fees to account for inflation (table of proposed license fees). The second bill would establish raffles for big game and trophy game hunting licenses (proposed big game/trophy game license raffles). If passed by the legislature, both bills would go into effect in 2014.
About 80% of the Department’s revenue comes from licenses and other fees paid by hunters and anglers. The most recent license fee increase in Wyoming was in 2008. That increase was intended to carry the Department through 2012; however, through careful financial management and cost cutting measures, including a 3% cut to the fiscal year 2013 budget (see fiscal year 2013 budget cuts); the Department should be able to sustain adequate operating funds through 2014. After that period, if additional revenue is not received, budget cuts of up to 20% will be necessary beginning in 2015. Cuts of that size would significantly impact many wildlife management and outdoor recreational programs currently valued by Wyoming residents and visitors.
Projected budget shortfalls are the result of inflation, lower numbers of hunting licenses being issued for mule deer and antelope due to reduced productivity in some herds, and cost increases greater than inflation for fuel, healthcare, feed, and other expenses. The Department implemented aggressive cost cutting measures as its first step in addressing the issue. Operating budgets have been reduced by nearly 4% (excluding state general funds) since 2009. When inflation is taken into consideration, this is a decline of approximately 13%. Cuts in fiscal year 2013 alone totaled $2 million including cuts to equipment for employees, travel, access acquisitions, habitat enhancements, conservation easements to protect crucial habitat, habitat management area maintenance, hunter education, fish surveying equipment, and conservation education programs.
However, by themselves, cost cutting measures will not reverse the Department’s financial situation. The Department needs to raise an additional $8 to $10 million annually to continue to provide current levels of services and programs. “We are at a crossroads in Wyoming,” says the Department’s Director Scott Talbott. “Our costs for managing Wyoming’s world-class wildlife resources continue to rise dramatically, while many of our traditional funding sources are in decline. We remain committed to maintaining broad-based public access to outdoor recreation opportunities. But meeting this goal, and maintaining current levels of services and programs will require additional funding.”
In coming years, the Department plans to engage the public and the legislature about identifying new revenue sources. As challenges such as declining mule deer numbers, energy development on many of the state’s most important habitats, drought, invasive species, wildlife diseases, and endangered species work expand, broadening the Department’s funding base beyond license fees will become an increasingly important issue. Finding a solution will be necessary to both secure a bright future for the state’s wildlife and to ensure that hunting and fishing remain an affordable part of the Wyoming experience.
(Contact: Al Langston (307) 777-4540)