Cuts

Wyoming Game and Fish faces millions in cuts; whole programs could be next

2013-06-30T14:00:00Z 2013-06-30T15:08:39Z Wyoming Game and Fish faces millions in cuts; whole programs could be nextBy CHRISTINE PETERSON Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

For Tom Maechtle, it’s not a hard decision: Lack of habitat equals a lack of fish and game. And lack of fish and game means fewer opportunities for sportsmen.

Simply leaving things alone won’t improve habitat. We’ve created a landscape that needs help, he said. A wildfire in northeast Wyoming, for example, offers people a choice. We can encourage native plants or leave the rangeland alone and allow invasive species such as cheet grass to move in.

“Biologists help guide those decisions,” said Maechtle, president of Bighorn Environmental Consultants in Sheridan.

Unfortunately, he said, matching dollars from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department intended to improve habitat may be one of the first things to go under the new budget woes.

The Game and Fish Commission will vote July 9 on millions of dollars in budget cuts for fiscal year 2014 after the state Legislature voted last winter against hunting and fishing license fee increases. The reduction raises the prospect of cuts to popular programs, including habitat management, fish stocking and sportsmen’s access. Game and Fish officials are also considering another $1.5 million in cuts to the 2015 budget, which could include slashing whole programs, reassigning jobs and darkening vacant positions.

“We have to make cuts where we can make them,” said Bob Wharff, executive director of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. “I think we need to look at what programs make sense and what programs don’t make sense.”

*****

Exactly what should be cut, or how to raise enough money to carry Game and Fish into the future, is up for debate. Game and Fish critics say the department is too fat and needs to trim its costs. Game and Fish officials say their hands are tied.

The department has little leeway in how to spend its money, Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott said. More than 60 percent of the department’s spending is mandated by the Legislature, including claims for damage to farms and ranches by wildlife, coupons that reimburse landowners for wildlife harvested on private property and services that the agency shares with other departments, such as the state auditor. Salaries are also mandated.

In 2011, the Legislature asked all departments to bring employee salaries to 91 percent of the average of the 12 other Western states.

About 80 percent of Game and Fish’s $70.5 million budget comes from sportsmen in the form of license fees and federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. If Game and Fish can’t raise money through license fee increases, it has to make cuts. If more than 60 percent of the budget is mandated by the Legislature, then the cuts must come from programs and services that aren’t required, such as habitat, access and fish stocking, Talbott said.

Matching salaries to other neighboring states was fine when Wyoming had a large surplus, but maybe those kinds of raises aren’t responsible anymore, said state Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, who is also a member of the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.

The department also needs to carefully look at each program and see if it follows the original mission of managing wildlife and serving people, Wharff, with the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said.

If a program is losing money and doesn’t directly serve Game and Fish’s mission, then maybe it should be cut, he said.

Talbott said the department did just that with its cuts to the 2013 budget and then the 2014 one. Department officials are recommending the commission cut the annual Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo, money for new access easements and some fish stocking, among other things.

The cuts total more than $7 million. But, the net loss will be less because of predicted increases in some of the department’s mandatory expenses. Feedgrounds will likely increase by about $900,000. Damage claims will increase $770,000 and shared expenses with other departments in the state will increase $800,000. The end result will be a 2014 budget $4.6 million, or 6.5 percent, lower than the 2013 budget.

“I think we have done a very thorough and complete job in looking at every program and trying to see how they can be more effective,” Talbott said. “Now it’s going to come down to programs and staff.”

*****

The Game and Fish Department’s original mission was to manage wildlife that could be hunted, trapped or fished. There weren’t issues like chronic wasting disease or invasive species, Jaggi said.

“I’m thinking we need to take care of the animals we hunt, trap and fish, to be paid for by the animals that we hunt, trap and fish,” he said.

Programs managing aquatic invasive species and sensitive species shouldn’t be paid for entirely by the sportsmen, he said.

Sheridan sportsman Larry Durante agrees.

“My big issue here is there are a lot of programs that the sportsmen that recreate in Wyoming are financing, like wolves, taking care of the bears, depredation programs, brucellosis, invasive species, black-footed ferrets, the walk-in program,” he said. “Not just sportsmen use these programs or benefit from them; other segments in Wyoming or society benefit from these programs.”

The state’s general fund allocated $5.6 million in 2013 to pay for five Game and Fish programs: sage grouse, nongame species, wolf management, aquatic invasive species and veterinary services, said John Kennedy, Game and Fish’s deputy director.

An additional $1.2 million comes from the Game and Fish Commission’s budget to help supplement those programs in areas such as staff time and vehicle maintenance, Kennedy said.

Even though elk, deer and antelope are the money-makers for the department, Game and Fish is mandated by statute to manage all wildlife, he said.

Maybe some of the areas like aquatic invasive species can be paid for by other departments or groups, Jaggi said. The agriculture industry and local water users would also be hurt by an outbreak of invasive mussels, for example.

“Somebody needs to take care of that, but is that totally the sportsmen of Wyoming that are supposed to do that?” he asked.

*****

No government agency wants to lay off people. But, when faced with a budget crisis, sometimes hard decisions need to be made, Jaggi said.

“If you cannot cover your bills with the money you have, you have to lay people off, cut some programs, something,” he said. “That’s the way businesses run.”

If and when the state climbs into a better financial place, then maybe positions and programs could be added again, he said.

Wharff thinks the department needs to consider partnering more with local nonprofits. Pheasant stocking, for example, could be done by local pheasant conservation groups instead of Game and Fish employees.

He also thinks Game and Fish needs to consider how much programs like the bird farms cost. Department officials should compare the cost of one of their birds to a bird on the private market.

The problem with hard choices such as cuts to habitat programs is their long-term impacts on sportsmen and also on Wyoming’s economy, said Neil Thagard, the western outreach director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“Here in Wyoming we’re darned lucky we have fantastic wildlife populations, great fishing and angling opportunities, and that is attributed to following good science,” he said. “We don’t have wildlife by accident. It takes an effort, it takes funding and it takes science-based analysis.”

Reach Open Spaces reporter Christine Peterson at 307-746-3121 or christine.peterson@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @PetersonOutside.

 

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. reality22
    Report Abuse
    reality22 - July 18, 2013 11:58 am
    Todd, you are on the right track..... I occasionally pay for out of state hunting licenses in MT and don't mind paying 10 times plus what native MT residence pay. These out of state anti-hunters should really be paying huge amounts for the damage they do to game the once healthy renewable resources WY had in some of its game herds..... These groups like to try to hoodwink the public making them think that the OVER populations of game that once roamed Yellowstone were out of whack all over the west.....
  2. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - July 05, 2013 5:29 pm
    The CST and other media outlets in the state need to quit giving WGF ink, paper and air time.
  3. Don Wills
    Report Abuse
    Don Wills - July 01, 2013 7:51 pm
    Yep, Wyoite has it right. The sky-will-fall story reminds me of what Obama was saying about the sequester. Services will grind to a halt. Crime will increase. Kids won't get educated.

    Don't buy it. Wyoming state government coffers are overflowing with money.
  4. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - July 01, 2013 8:35 am
    Some one should remind Rep. Jaggi that he and his cronies the they mandate 60% on the GF budget, including salaries. Problem is that some of the sportsman of the state no longer want to support the management of all wildlife like they have done for years. they aree frustrated by the lack of progress in getting some species delisted and put under state management; something the Department can't control. If you don't wnt programs that don't pay for themselves then they are a lot of programs that are going away. Deer, elk and Antelope support all the other Department programs. Let's go to a Utah system that Bob Warfh wants and only those of you with a landowner friend will be hunting and then just for cow and does. good luck
  5. side oiler
    Report Abuse
    side oiler - July 01, 2013 7:50 am
    Years ago Fish & Game had fewer employees and those employees had real common sense,plus they drove vehicles for years,instead of getting new $40,000 pickups every other year.No wonder they squeal about money,soon only the snobby transplants will be able hunt and fish in this state.
  6. Todd
    Report Abuse
    Todd - July 01, 2013 6:10 am
    The state should have given them more tax dollars instead of giving it to WYDOT to blow. Don't forget WGF is not only responsible for ordinary wildlife, but the feds force them to manage 2 extremely expensive species, grizzlies and wolves out of their budget. Far and away the majority of the WFG budget is money from hunters, yet a tremendous amount is spent being forced to do the bidding of environmental groups, and they contribute nothing...except headaches and problems. It is time to make the lawsuit filing enviro groups pay up, perhaps some sort of registration fee. Definitely make every penny realized from lawsuits be spent on the species. Every time a griz has to be moved form one area to another, I would like to see the total cost of that published to give folks an idea of how expensive it is.
  7. LEE2253
    Report Abuse
    LEE2253 - July 01, 2013 5:04 am
    Well said. lee2253
  8. Wyoite
    Report Abuse
    Wyoite - June 30, 2013 7:14 pm
    WGF never quits with
    whining. They use the Obama playbook of trying to scare folks into a fee/tax increase.

    Go cut your budgets like everyone elae does and quit threatening people that there will soon be no fishing or hunting in Wyoming.

    Your head guys are making six figure incomes as public servants - I suggest you start there and then move to the generous benefits you allow yourselves with "company" cars, retirements, health ins, etc
Untitled Document

Civil Dialogue

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Name-calling, crude language and personal abuse are not welcome. Moderators will monitor comments with an eye toward maintaining a high level of civility in this forum. Our comment policy explains the rules of the road for registered commenters.

If your comment was not approved, perhaps...

  1. You called someone an idiot, a racist, a dope, a moron, etc. Please, no name-calling or profanity (or veiled profanity -- #$%^&*).

  2. You rambled, failed to stay on topic or exhibited troll-like behavior intended to hijack the discussion at hand.

  3. YOU SHOUTED YOUR COMMENT IN ALL CAPS. This is hard to read and annoys readers.

  4. You have issues with a business. Have a bad meal? Feel you were overcharged at the store? New car is a lemon? Contact the business directly with your customer service concerns.

  5. You believe the newspaper's coverage is unfair. It would be better to write the editor at editors@trib.com, or call Editor Jason Adrians at 266-0545 or Content Director David Mayberry at 266-0633. This is a forum for community discussion, not for media criticism. We'd rather address your concerns directly.

  6. You included an e-mail address or phone number, pretended to be someone you aren't or offered a comment that makes no sense.

  7. You accused someone of a crime or assigned guilt or punishment to someone suspected of a crime.

  8. Your comment is in really poor taste.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick