The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved nearly five million dollars in budget cuts that were necessary after the legislature failed to approved an increase in game and fish license fees. The department is funded 80 percent by license fees and was already dealing with a deficit when the fee hikes were voted down. But lawmakers wanted the Game and Fish Department to be more efficient. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.
BOB BECK: The cuts were approved at a recent Game and Fish Commission meeting in Saratoga and many were unhappy.
NEIL THAGARD: It’s our elected officials that have put the department shall I say in dire straits. It’s going to have huge implications on our fish and wildlife resources in the state of Wyoming.
BECK: That’s Neil Thagard of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
THAGARD: You know we are going to see a huge reduction of more than a half million fish in the state that are normally part of the stocking program to some of our reservoirs for angling opportunities, that’s going to be reduced. Research…which is huge.
BECK: The Co-owner of the Wolf Hotel in Saratoga Judd Campbell is worried about reductions to habitat programs…which could result in less wildlife. He says that would hurt his business.
JUDD CAMPBELL: Without the Game and Fish, without what they do with all the natural habitat that we have here, nobody’s gonna come to Saratoga. You know without the river full of fish, without the Elk Herds and the Deer Herds.
BECK: Some have asked the Department not to go ahead with some of the cuts, but Director Scott Talbott said they had little choice. While they were initially stunned by a House Committee voting down the fee hikes after that same committee had supported the increase all summer…Talbott says they quickly got to work making up for their shortfall..
SCOTT TALBOTT: While it’s been very, very painful and it’s against my values as a citizen of this state, I think our folks should be commended for literally stepping up to the plate and making some changes here.
BECK He says the department will be more efficient…they froze or reduced 21 positions…and they made cuts. Habitat improvements will be reduced, but a number of residents have expressed concern that the department has decided not to spend any more money on acquiring hunting and fishing access. Talbott says that will be noticed…
TALBOTT: The long term implications on both habitat and access are staggering. If you look at the foresight that our predecessors had to acquire access on the North Platte River, the Shoshone River, the Big Horn River near Dubois, those access areas are literally used by tens of thousands of anglers every year.
BECK: While the department has its supporters, one outdoors group worked hard to kill the bill to increase license fees for the simple reason that they feared it would harm the hunting industry. Robert Wharff is the Director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. He says increased license fees hurt some other states…
ROBERT WHARFF: Idaho and Montana both increased their license fees in 2009, both of those states have been having extremely difficult times selling their licenses to primarily non-resident hunters. They quit coming. There is a bar you cannot break and we told them in 2007 when we supported the license fee increases that we needed to be looking at other alternatives.
BECK: Wharff has a list of alternatives that starts with being more efficient and reducing costs on things that he views as unnecessary…like the Wyoming Wildlife Magazine. Wharff also has a skeptical view of the cuts…
WHARFF: Some of my members have said that these cuts are being made to be as painful as they can be and I won’t dispute that. I think in some ways it does appear that they are cutting programs to cause pain to the people that provide their funding.
BECK: Kim Floyd is the Director of the AFL-CIO and visibibly shook while discussing the budget cuts. He says to harm an agency that helps bring in billions to the state is crazy.
KIM FLOYD: It creates jobs, it keeps Main Street businesses open, that’s why it just floors me that every ten years we have to have this discussion. They have to rely on the legislature to approve any kind of license fee increase and about every ten years we have to go back to this. Something has to change.
BECK: Floyd notes that non-hunters enjoy the Wyoming outdoors and he says that they need to pay into the system. One way that could happen is by having the legislature appropriate money from the state budget for some Game and Fish projects, but Governor Matt Mead worries that having a non-guaranteed revenue stream could cause more problems than it would solve. The does Governor stress that he’s concerned about the impacts that the cuts could have and he is considering some solutions. Game and Fish Commissioners say if something doesn’t change, more cuts are coming. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.