CHEYENNE – More sportsmen's dollars will be used for wildlife-related programs with the passage of a bill Friday to allow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to receive state funds for two key expenses previously paid for through hunting and fishing license fee
Ten organizations united as the Wyoming Sportsmen's Alliance (WYSA) last July after the Legislature voted down a bill supported by the vast majority of sportsmen in the state which would have allowed the Game and Fish Department to raise license fees to address budgetary shortfalls. A similar bill was also defeated this year. License fees have not been increased since 2008.
Representing about 50,000 Wyoming citizens, the WYSA includes Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Bowhunters of Wyoming, Hunting With Heroes, Muley Fanatic Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Wyoming Trout Unlimited , Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen and Wyoming Wildlife Federation.
“The passage of this bill is a big victory, and one small step to getting a fully funded Game and Fish Department,” said Neil Thagard, Western Outreach Director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We do not have sustainable fish and wildlife by accident. It is through appropriate funding that pays for science-based wildlife management. This does not come free of charge.”
Senate File 45, which now goes to Gov. Matt Mead, was given final approval by the Wyoming House in a landslide 45-11 vote. It represents a remarkable change of opinion by lawmakers who this year embraced state funding for the Game and Fish Department's grizzly bear management and to pay for insurance premiums for the the agency's employees.
Last year the department spent almost $2 million on the grizzly bear program and $4.7 million for workers' insurance, money which came directly from sportsmen through license and tag fees. Thanks to SF 45, in future budgets Game and Fish will be able to request monies for both from the state's General Fund.
John Kennedy, deputy director of internal operations at Game and Fish, noted the monies collected from hunters and anglers will now be “re-directed to other on-the-ground projects.” He expressed appreciation to the WYSA for its efforts.
In 2013, the Legislature asked the department to slash its budget by more than $7 million (about 6.2 percent, which forced the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to begin reducing and cutting programs and positions that have proven effective and beneficial to the Department, sportsmen and women, businesses, and most importantly to the state’s fish and wildlife resources.
These cuts and reductions have already began to adversely impact programs such as the youth Hunting and Fishing Expo, Wyoming Wildlife Magazine, hunter/angler access programs, fish stocking, and important fish and wildlife research.
“The votes on the House Floor demonstrate that legislators have been listening to their constituents,” said Josh Coursey of the Muley Fanatic Foundation. “These constituents are sportsmen and women who have spoken for the Department and our fish and wildlife resources.”
“While this bill isn't the panacea by any stretch of the imagination, it absolutely was a big win for us,” said Kim Floyd of the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen.
Buzz Hettick, co-chaiman of Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said the group was happy to assist on lobbying for the bill.
“We felt from the beginning that the alliance would work if all the groups rallied behind a single cause,” he related. “We had a couple speed bumps along the way, but in the end, collaboration got this done. Every group and their memberships deserve recognition.”
The House Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee removed grizzly bear management from the bill, but the full House restored it and fought back efforts to take out the health insurance funding.
Thagard said once the grizzly bear receives delisting from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and management is turned over to the state, this portion of the bill can be revisited. Meanwhile, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will now be in line with other state agencies who’s employee benefits are paid for out of the General Fund.