By KARLA POMEROY
Officials from the Wyoming Game and Fish came to the Big Horn County commissioners recently to explain their rate proposal to the Wyoming Legislature.
Game and Fish biologist Tom Easterly said they were making the presentation to the commissioners because they are “important stake holders in the county” and by giving them the presentation then the commissioners could address questions if residents come to them with concerns or questions.
According to a Wyoming Game and Fish press release, after working with the Wyoming Legislature, partner organizations, and the public, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department came up with five options to increase funding for wildlife management and conservation. The options include a license fee adjustment, a big game license super raffle, separate white-tailed and mule deer licenses, annual or biennial license fee adjustments tied to inflation (indexing), and increased revenue from Wyoming Wildlife Magazine.
“We are at a crossroads in Wyoming,” said WGFD 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, requires additional funding. To offset the effects of inflation and reduced numbers of deer and antelope licenses issued, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department needs to raise an additional 8 to10 million dollars annually to continue to provide current levels of services and programs.”
The proposal was submitted to the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on Nov. 9.
Easterly told the commissioners that based on current fiscal projection, the Game and Fish can’t provide the same level of services by 2014 without increasing revenues.
He said inflation continues to rise; they are seeing lower deer and antelope productivity, which means fewer licenses, sold and that means lower revenue.
He added that historically Game and Fish operations have been funded on license fees and the last increase was 2008. It was designed to take the department through 2012, but they were able to stretch it to 2014.
Easterly said the five options proposed for additional revenue would bring in about $8 million to $10 million.
He explained that the annual biennial license fee adjustment indexed to inflation would allow the Game and Fish Commission to adjust for inflation without legislative approval.
As for the Wyoming Wildlife Magazine, Easterly said they currently charge $10 per year.
Commissioner Keith Grant suggested raffling off the licenses that are given to the Game and Fish commissioners.
Game Warden Bill Robertson said some commissioners do give licenses to non-profit organizations. He said not often are they given to friends.
As for the process of the revenue proposal, Robertson said alternatives were presented to the Legislature and they were directed to get public input and they are in the process of doing that through public meetings, webinars and presentations like the one to the commissioners.
Game Warden James Hobbs said in addition to increasing revenue the department has been making cuts and is looking at more cuts.
He said a 2006 Legislative Service Office report showed that the G&F budget has grown at a smaller rate than the other state departments. This year there was a 3 percent cut to the commission budget and departments have been asked to cut 8 percent from the G&F general fund for fiscal year 2014.
But, he said costs continue to rise. Inflation, he said is at 12.5 percent, but fuel costs since the last increase in 2008, has increased 64 percent, feed 26 percent and health insurance 36 percent.
He added that other cost of operations has increased. Wyoming stocks more than 400,000 pounds of trout and salmon annually and costs for feed and utilities are up 32 percent since 2008.
Total costs to raise one pheasant and release it is about $23 this year. They release about 30,000 every year for a cost this year of $690,000. The cost in 2008 was $476,000.
The cost of helicopter surveys have increased from $675 per hour to $800 per hour
He said the Access Yes Program that allows access to private land costs about $1.7 million with only about $120,000 provided through donations.
License fee adjustments
Robertson outlined the proposed license fee adjustments. He said the adjustments came from a recommendation by an independent company, Southwick Associates. They are based on rates of inflation, prices in adjacent states and optimum price points.
He said there will be no change on some licenses because it was determined that the G&F wouldn’t see much additional increase in revenue.
There will be no increase in pioneer licenses or resident and non-resident youth licenses. Robertson said there is a concern that they would lose more hunters than they would see in any increased revenue if they increased youth rates.
“We’re seeing a decrease in youth hunting. We want to maintain that attractiveness,” Robertson said.
He said there is also no change in reduced-priced licenses because they are in management areas that have high amount of crop depredation or there is a need to deal with increased animal population.
There are proposed 21.5 percent increase in other licenses including conservation stamps, archery and application fees for both resident and non-resident.
Some fees are recommended to decrease — resident annual game bird $14 to $10; resident annual small game from $14 to 10; resident annual combination of game bird/small game from $22 to $15; and disabled companion hunter from $5 to $0.
Robertson said the “bread and butter” for G&F revenue are elk, deer and antelope licenses.
A resident deer license would increase from $36 to $52 and nonresident from $310 to $520. Robertson said the G&F did a comparison to other states if the license was the only license purchased. A cost would be $71 with the conservation stamp and the application fee. Wyoming then, would be the second highest fee of neighboring states.
Hobbs added, however, that other states are also looking at raising fees.
An antelope license would increase from $31 to $48 for resident and $270 to $370 for nonresident. Using the same formula for comparison, Wyoming again ranks second in both resident and nonresident fees.
Elk licenses will increase from $50-$75 and $575 to $750, respectively. Wyoming would be the third highest fee for resident licenses and second for nonresident.
Using the same formula, Wyoming’s resident and nonresident fishing license fees as proposed (with an annual resident fee increasing from $22 to $36), Wyoming would have the highest rate of neighboring states — Utah, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho and Colorado.
The three said that while the costs may seem high, they are not high when compared to other outdoor recreation activities such as golf or skiing or ATV riding when the purchase of gas and the ATV are included.
Hobbs said, “ We’re not trying to justify our cost increase based on other costs, but rather show it costs to do other things as well.”
Chairman Jerry Ewen asked if they were concerned with the increase in nonresident license fees that they would see a drop in the number of applicants.
Robertson said when they raised fees 2008 and 2004 they saw an initial reduction in non-resident applications. “Eventually that recovers and we end up with more applicants than licenses.”
He added that they always seem to have more applicants than they have available licenses on the Big Horns.
In addressing another question, Hobbs said hunter coordinators have helped open up private land by working with private landowner, but there are still some problems in some areas in the Big Horn Basin.
Easterly added that a landowner who declines hunting does not get depredation funding from the Game and Fish for damage wild game may cause on the property.
Comments may be submitted online at http://wgfd.wyo.gov/WGFD_WebSurvey/CommentOnly.aspx. More information may be obtained online at http://wgfd.wyo.gov/web2011/wgfd-1000880.aspx. Residents may also call 307-777-4600.