Wyoming Game and Fish Department shouldn't be hamstrung by red tape

2013-07-09T05:00:00Z Wyoming Game and Fish Department shouldn't be hamstrung by red tape Casper Star-Tribune Online
July 09, 2013 5:00 am

Line by line, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s complex, $70.5 million budget is tough for anyone other than an accountant to understand.

Equally perplexing is what stays and what goes in the face of a

$7 million budget shortfall due to a failed fee hike request.

And yet the cause of the agency’s budget-cutting dilemma is simple:

n About 80 percent of Game and Fish’s budget comes from sportsmen in the form of license fees and federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.

In that sense, the agency is statutorily charged with being largely self-supportive.

n More than 60 percent of the department’s spending is dictated by the Legislature.

In that sense, the agency is hamstrung by lawmakers’ whims and mandates – i.e. government red tape.

n While the department’s net cut is $4.6 million, the cut actually totals $7 million. The difference is due to predicted increases in mostly mandated expenses such as crop damage claims and feed grounds.

In that sense, Game and Fish is on the fast track to being in the unenviable position of the U.S. Postal Service – a government agency expected to operate like a business but, at the same time, often told how to operate.


Not necessarily.

This past winter, Game and Fish officials lobbied the Legislature to raise some hunting and fishing license fees in order to offset budget reductions. Lawmakers hotly debated the resulting legislation before killing it. Agency officials were told to go back and look at their programs and pinpoint areas of excess.

Seriously? Are we to believe there are significant areas of fat in that 40 percent of the budget that is self-sustained and not legislatively controlled?

Meanwhile, lawmakers continued to pile on the mandates, which include claims for damages 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.

Not unlike the U.S. Postal Service, relatively speaking, Game and Fish salaries are also state-regulated. In 2011, the Legislature asked all agencies to bring employee salaries to 91 percent of the average of 12 other Western states.

Back in the 1890s, the state footed the bill for Game and Fish, like every other agency. In the 1930s, its mission was changed to: Conserve Wyoming’s abundant wildlife and serve the people based on a budget supported by license fees and federal tax funds.

As expected, things became less simple over time.

Human progress meant managing habitat in order to sustain healthy wildlife. Wildlife disease management grew more and more necessary – and costly. Predator control responsibility increasingly shifted Game and Fish’s way. Fish stocking was made necessary in order to meet anglers’ needs. To name a few.

It truly is a complicated issue. But not one without solutions.

License fee hikes must seriously be considered.

So too should creative ideas for getting funding from nonhunters and anglers, but those who simply are wildlife watchers.

Wyoming’s wildlife are a major part of the state’s No. 2 industry – tourism. While tourists generate state revenues and support businesses in the form of shopping, eating out and lodging, those monies do not directly benefit Game and Fish’s mission.

Why not apply, say, a nominal lodging tax toward Game and Fish so wildlife watchers, not just sportsmen, help foot the bill?

Surely there is a better path than the one we’re on.

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(8) Comments

  1. OWStarr
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    OWStarr - July 10, 2013 10:37 pm
    If WY Fish and Game wants to start monetizing non-consumptive users AKA wildlife watchers, maybe they should start treating us like we matter... there are far more people that would love to see wolves and other wildlife alive and well and unmolested and are happy to pour money and a lot of it into economies that support these activities.

    Stop prioritizing the groups that want to kill wildlife and develop better programs for non-consumptive users and the situation will improve for all concerned and most particularly for the wildlife.
  2. pappy
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    pappy - July 10, 2013 4:32 pm
    They do understand economics. When expenses go up, mostly not under their control, you either make cuts, which they have, or you raise prices. All businesses do this or they or they are gone. I'd be willing to bet there are very few business that haven't raised their prices since 2008. No one likes fees to go up but sometimes it is necessary. If you want to see if the operate effeciently or not compare their current budget to 2008 and figure in inflation and legislatively mandated cost. Compare their budgets to any other state agency and see who is spending responsibly.
  3. Willy
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    Willy - July 10, 2013 1:49 pm
    Are you saying that they are buying new vehicles each year or replacing the same vehicle every year? I know for a fact that they do not replace the same vehicle every year. Now, they are likely on a rotation basis to replace vehicles every 80-100,000 miles, like most state agencies do, so yes, there may be one coming in every year to be replaced.
  4. side oiler
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    side oiler - July 09, 2013 12:32 pm
    I live in Sheridan too,willy,and my wife works at the local GMC/Dodge dealer and I can attest to the fact about G&F getting new vehicles every year,she does the paperwork on them.
  5. Sassy
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    Sassy - July 09, 2013 9:42 am

    Good suggestion- It is my understanding most of Tourism's dollars in spending are "soft" dollars. They trade or barter to get the Wyoming brand out to the public.

    The funds they receive from the state for operations is a different story, this pays salaries , benefits, travel ( and a lot of it)

    None the less- Tourism should pony up...
  6. Willy
    Report Abuse
    Willy - July 09, 2013 9:19 am
    Our hunting license fees are pretty low, especially compared to non-resident fees. No problem here with a fee hike. A deer tag is about the price of a couple of movie tickets, popcorn & drinks.

    Funny, I live in Sheridan & I don't see the G&F driving new rigs every year. Have to call BS on that comment.

    Ken: good post!
  7. Sage52
    Report Abuse
    Sage52 - July 09, 2013 7:55 am
    Game & Fish needs to go back to economics class and learn how to live within their means. They do not need fancy new vehicles every year,and I know because they get many from a dealer here in Sheridan.
  8. ken
    Report Abuse
    ken - July 09, 2013 6:21 am
    Here is the $2 dollar question. Why would the State and County run tourism agencies not want to assist Game and Fish with funding? Tourism in Wyoming is not what Fed-X is to the Postal Service. Without the abundant wildlife viewing opportunities afforded the tourist an interesting phenomenon occurs. Less tourists. The State Division of Tourism and the County run lodging taxes represent millions of dollars in mostly un-trackable under utilized value to the State. Here is an opportunity for the Legislature to turn waste into value by paying their fair share for the wildlife everyone comes here for. The Game & Fish are the good guys. Lets help them out.
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