The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s budget woes are gaining more attention from Wyoming residents, according to some outdoor organizations.
Dozens of sportsmen in August went to a Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee meeting in Jackson to speak in favor of Game and Fish. Many plan to attend another meeting today in Kemmerer, said Kim Floyd, director of the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen, which includes about 18,000 members.
The joint committee will discuss two draft bills. One bill proposes raising the price of hunting and fishing licenses and the other asks the Wyoming Legislature to pay for elk feedgrounds, grizzly bear management and Game and Fish employee health insurance from the general fund.
“They are alternative funding sources for Game and Fish and are alternatives I want to put in front of the TRW committee,” said Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, and chairman of the Senate travel and recreation committee.
The Legislature voted against license fee increases earlier this year, which meant Game and Fish began a series of cuts to its budget including not filling empty positions, stocking fewer fish and cutting money to public access and habitat programs.
The bill that would increase license fees proposes raising them by 10 percent, a lower rate than the increases in the rejected bill. If the committee does not want to increase license fees, Burns would like the members to discuss paying for items such as health insurance, which is mandated by the Legislature.
Game and Fish has been on a fixed budget since 2008 — when license fees were last raised. When health insurance increases for other agencies, the agencies ask the Legislature for more money, Burns said. Game and Fish takes the increase out of its budget, which is made mostly of license fees and federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. The agency needs more money to be able to operate.
“There are a number of individuals and groups that are quite concerned about the impending loss of programs by Game and Fish,” he said.
Many sportsmen assumed the license fee increases proposed earlier this year would pass, he said. License fee increases have passed since the 1930s.
As cuts begin, sportsmen are worried about the future of fisheries, wildlife and recreation in the state, Floyd said.
“I do believe people are getting more involved,” he said. “I had 12 people show up at the last meeting, and they took vacation to go.”
The two draft bills would be a good way to stop the bleeding, but the public still needs to find a long-term solution for funding Wyoming’s fish and wildlife programs, said Steve Kilpatrick, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.
If Game and Fish does not see more money in its coffers by 2015, officials say the cuts will continue.