GILLETTE — Cuts to fish and wildlife programs in the state passed another hurdle Thursday.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission preliminarily approved about $7 million worth of cuts to the state Game and Fish Department’s 2014 budget with little discussion or fanfare.
Commissioner Aaron Clark said commissioners and department officials have been working on, and talking about, the cuts for months. More-difficult cuts will come in 2015 when the department may hack entire programs. Commissioners and department officials want the public’s involvement when making those decisions, he said.
Department officials had asked the Wyoming Legislature for license fee increases this year to continue current services. Legislators said no.
Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Star Valley, said after the meeting Wednesday that she wondered if the current proposal, which includes cutting items like the Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo and select fish stocking, is meant to alarm the public.
“I think it’s the exact opposite,” Clark said. “The majority of the cuts are internal and in the department and the public shouldn’t notice them.”
Some of those include removing vehicles from the fleet, not filling vacant positions and not updating equipment.
A large portion of Game and Fish’s budget is required by the Legislature. The costs of health insurance, shared services such as the state auditor and salaries are set by the state, not by the Game and Fish Department, he said.
“People say we should run the department like a business,” he said. “Except we can’t control our cost of health insurance and salaries and now the state is controlling the cost of our product.”
Few areas are left to cut, which is why programs like the Expo rest on the chopping block. It doesn’t bring revenue to the department and cutting it will save $250,000 per year.
The program cuts will have an effect on people. Each program and each service has a following, Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott said.
“There isn’t a single thing that this department and commission does that isn’t important to some aspect of our constituency,” he said Wednesday. “I’m not aware of a single thing that the Legislature hasn’t asked us to do or the public hasn’t asked us to do.”
The commission will take a final vote on the 2014 budget at its July meeting. Work has already begun on 2015 cuts.