An unlikely group of bedfellows has joined forces to support the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s proposed license fee increases.
The Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Wyoming Trout Unlimited, the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Muley Fanatic Foundation of Wyoming joined eight other organizations to ask the state Legislature to approve the changes.
Lawmakers will meet this session to decide the future of the increases.
“We represent good, old, blue-collar hunters and anglers in this state, and the reason a lot of the blue-collar hunters and anglers are here is because of the resources,” said Steve Kilpatrick, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “Hunters and anglers regret that it keeps costing more to do the things we enjoy, but I don’t think the increases are exorbitant or outrageous.”
The department needs between
$8 million and $10 million more each year to maintain current services, wildlife
officials say. Without additional money by 2015, fisheries and wildlife programs could be cut by up to 20 percent, said the department’s deputy director, John Emmerich, in a September interview with the Star-Tribune.
The Legislature will consider two items to raise money: a big game super raffle that could raise $1 million a year and license fee increases.
The license fee bill calls for a one-time increase and indexing, which would raise the cost of licenses each year the same amount as inflation. Prices would also be reviewed every six years by the Game and Fish Commission.
Proposed increases vary by license type. Resident elk tags, for example, would increase from $50 to $65 and a resident yearly fishing license would go from $22 to $30.
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Hunting and fishing licenses and federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment make up the bulk of Game and Fish’s annual budget. The department has increased license fees every four to six years for decades, Emmerich said.
Large increases can be hard to swallow, which is why the various nonprofit organizations also support raising license fees each year in the same amount as inflation, said Kim Floyd, director of the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen.
The organization recently formed out of the Wyoming AFL-CIO and includes more than 18,000 members.
“Our members understand we haven’t had a license increase in five years, and they know everything goes up,” Floyd said. “They like indexing where we just pay a little bit more every year like a cost of living increase.”
It costs thousands of dollars to go back to the Legislature every four to six years to ask for an increase, Kilpatrick said. Indexing would save valuable time and money.
The groups, which also include Safari Club International of Central Wyoming, Audubon Rockies and the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation, don’t always join together on every issue. They found common ground in support for the agency that works with Wyoming’s fish and wildlife, Kilpatrick said.
If the department has to cut 20 percent of its budget, no one knows what or where the cuts could be, said Scott Christy, Wyoming coordinator for Trout Unlimited.
“The work that they do to manage the resource is pretty imperative, and our concern is they won’t have the resources to continue that work,” Christy said.
No one likes spending more money, but most of the organization’s members understand that inflation is a cost. The Game and Fish Department has already cut its budget and shouldn’t have to face more cuts, Christy said.
“For the sake of fisheries, we think this is the right thing to do,” he said.