Costs for managing wildlife continue to rise dramatically, while many traditional funding sources are declining, said Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott in a September news release.
If the department is unable to obtain additional revenue by 2015, budget cuts of up to 20 percent may be necessary beginning that year, said the same release.
The department is looking at a 5 percent or larger cut in its 2014 fiscal year budget, said Eric Keszler, Game and Fish spokesman in Cheyenne.
Other bills pending would increase car and snowmobile registration fees, expand county clerk costs and a bill to increase the state fuel tax from its current 14 cents to 24 cents.
The hunting license legislation failed because the committee believed there were enough price hikes without adding hunting/fishing licenses. It appeared legislators were piling on the taxes that could impact every Wyoming household. “It just looked like we were ganging up on ourselves,” said Rep. Dave Blevins, R-Powell. Blevins serves on the committee and opposed the increases.
Game and Fish representatives didn’t believe the proposed license hikes would have been too high. The department hired a firm to determine how much people would be willing to pay and proposed the increases according to optimum prices, Keszler said.
HB 37, which would allow the department to raffle hunting licenses is moving forward. That bill could raise $500,000 to $1 million for the department, Blevins said.
The Senate had a companion bill, Senate File 32, but revenue bills must originate in the House. The Senate was in favor of SF 32, but even if there were no Wyoming Constitutionality issues and the bill passed in the Senate, it likely would be shot down by the House, said Mike Healy, of Worland, representing district 5 of the Game and Fish Commission.
A bill in the Senate aimed at increasing license fees for non-residents only. Blevins said he believes those increases are the same as those listed on HB 136.
Although Wyoming hunting and fishing licenses are a bargain, hunters and anglers seem to be shouldering all the costs to maintain Wyoming’s animals, said Tim Metzler of Powell. Recreationists, wildlife viewers, photographers and others who appreciate Cowboy State animals should pay their share too, he said.
“If we want wildlife in this state we have got to pay for it somehow,” Metzler said.
Non-resident elk licenses could be bumped up a bit. The Game and Fish should charge less for cow elk tags than bull elk tags. That would encourage hunters to purchase cow tags and thus cut the number of elk cows in areas where the herd is exceeding population objectives substantially, Metzler said.
HB 136 would have granted the commission the authority to reduce the cost of licenses to achieve management objectives.
The last license increase was in 2007, Healy said.
There will be another hunting license increase bill, Blevins said.
The department is tapping into revenue derived from license sales to conduct bear and wolf studies. License revenue should be earmarked strictly for wildlife that is being hunted, and that must be addressed, Blevins said.
The department will work with Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee this year as the committee conducts an interim study. A new license increase bill will be introduced in Cheyenne in 2014, Healy said.
“We have to have an increase at some point,” he said.
“We are aware that the costs of all goods and services, from fuel for our vehicles to food on our table, have increased over the past five years and it’s not enjoyable,” said a letter from a coalition organized by the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, addressed to the committee. “However, sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts clearly recognize the need for adequate funding to support sound fish and wildlife management into the future.”