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Changes to elk tags? State proposes two nonresident license options

A mature bull elk is the preferred target of most nonresident elk hunters coming to Wyoming. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is planning public scoping meetings for a proposed change to the way the state allocates tags. A mature bull elk is the preferred target of most nonresident elk hunters coming to Wyoming. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is planning public scoping meetings for a proposed change to the way the state allocates tags. Photo courtesy Lori Iverson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has proposed changes to the number of elk licenses nonresidents can draw and the way they are issued.

History isn’t on the proposal’s side: The limit of 16 percent of limited quota tags for nonresidents and a cap of 7,250 total elk tags still stands after numerous attempts at updates, two lawsuits and a near doubling in the size of Wyoming elk herds over the past few decades.

Now once again, the department hopes to find support for a change that will raise the percent of nonresident limited quota licenses up to 20 percent in some areas while also changing the way nonresidents buy general tags.

Previous attempts at change have all met the same doom — a lack of public support.

“This is going to be a highly charged issue,” Keith Culver, president of the Game and Fish Commission, said at a meeting in Lovell last week.

Many don’t like the idea of more nonresident hunters coming to Wyoming. Nonresident hunters typically hunt for bulls and that doesn’t sit well with many residents. And more hunters could mean crowding on public access land. Hunters and outfitters were at the meeting to lobby the commissioners.

“Any increase in the 7,250 quota, or even worse, an increase in the nonresident allocation from 16 to 20 [percent], all it does is diminish the elk hunting that we have here,” said Steve Gili, a resident elk hunter from Rock Springs who first came to the state to hunt as a nonresident.

Doug Brimeyer, deputy chief of the wildlife division, presented the commission with two options last week. The first is to leave everything as it is.

The second option is more complicated. The department’s proposal gives flexibility on the limited quota licenses, raising the percentage of nonresident licenses up to 20 percent in regions that show low resident demand.

“In a lot of regions where there’s high demand now it would likely stay at 16 percent,” said Brian Nesvik, chief of the wildlife division.

Under the proposal, the department would also change the nonresident general tag option to general elk regions, much like nonresident deer licenses. It would also do away with the statewide cap of 7,250 nonresident licenses. The number of nonresident general tags available would be set independently by regional managers, based primarily on a biological basis but could also include issues like resident tag requests and public opinion, Brimeyer said.

While the cap would be eliminated, it doesn’t necessarily mean the number of nonresident hunters would go up.

“If we went to independent regions that could set their own quota, the 7,250 cap wouldn’t be necessary,” Brimeyer said. “Potentially it could [increase], but it also could make it so the managers have the flexibility if they have winter severity — such as in western Wyoming, where they had the deer changes, they could modify their quotas to be on the lower side for a year or two depending on the biological needs of that population.”

Many outfitters would like to see the system change.

“The current system is antiquated,” said Lee Livingston, representing Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association. The Wapiti resident said he’d like to see the number of nonresident tags go up to correspond with the rising elk population.

According to the Game and Fish Department, the state’s elk population has increased substantially since 1980, when the post-hunting season number of elk was estimated at 65,000. The post-season population estimate first peaked at 110,000 in 1995, then declined to 89,000 in 2004. By 2014 it grew to an all-time high of 114,600 and has been stable since. The current rules were set in 1987.

However, commissioner Pat Crank wasn’t so keen on the idea of having nonresident tags rise with the elk population.

“What do you say to the resident hunter who has put in for 10 years in a limited quota area and can’t draw it because our Legislature will not adopt resident preference points? said Crank, a commissioner from Cheyenne. “Take myself; I love to hunt Green Mountain. They give out 100 elk tags there. I can only draw it every 10 years. What do you say to Pat Crank that says, ‘I’m opposed to giving four more of those tags to nonresident hunters? I live here. I pay taxes.’”

Yet the idea of the proposed changes, according to Brimeyer, is to leave decisions to regional managers and increases to 20 percent are unlikely in high demand areas. Areas with low demand from residents, such as the northeastern part of the state, where much of the land is private, or areas where elk populations negatively impact mule deer habitat, are likely to see the increased percentage. And breaking the state up in to nonresident hunt regions could help combat crowding issues.

Not all outfitters agree with the proposed changes, however. B.J. Hill, owner of Swift Creek Outfitters near Jackson, wants to keep the current system intact.

“I think we’re rushing this thing too fast,” Hill said. “Lets get our grizzlies and wolves on track completely and get our calf ratio on track and then come back and revisit this thing. I’d like to stay with the status quo until we get healed up.”

Ultimately, regardless of what the department proposes, the decision is in the hands of the commission.

“Everything that the department does with these allocations would simply be a recommendation to the commission and ultimately the commission would make the decision during the season-setting meetings,” Nesvik said.

David Rael, commissioner from Cowley, hopes all parties can come to a reasonable compromise on the issue.

“I do believe the 7,250 licenses is a small number, especially when compared to the current elk populations. It would be a win-win for us to side with the outfitters and also side with the residents,” Rael said. “There’s a compromise there. We’ll find it.”

Everyone will get a chance to voice their opinions. The commission plans to soon take the proposal to the public in a series of meetings throughout the state.

“I don’t know another entity that goes to such lengths to include the public in our decisions,” said commission president Culver.

No matter what comes of the proposal, he said changes, if any, will not affect the 2018 season.

13 comments

  • posted by Cliff Rockhold

    December 17, 2017 9:09 pm

    I have lived in Wyoming my entire life and have applied for a bull tag in area 100 for at least twenty years. I have never drawn one. Residence needs a preference points system just like non residents.

  • posted by Salty Dawg

    November 28, 2017 10:40 am

    Nonresidents don't really have a dog in the fight,all they care about is that trophy mount to brag about...at any cost.A lot of Wyoming it's gave up hunting because of many non residents hunting actions.

  • posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    November 28, 2017 7:10 am

    What makes you non residents think you are so special and deserve special treatment? I stand by my original comment,and there are many,many residents who agree...perhaps if you all had not over populated YOUR states with trigger happy wannabes,we in the West would not have to duck for cover when we see out of state license plates.I have personally been shot at while hunting in the Big Horns years ago by out of state hunters who later shot a horse thinking it was an elk.If some are that stupid,they don't deserve to be let out of their house.

  • posted by Chris Link

    November 27, 2017 2:06 pm

    All caps, misspelled words and no courage to leave your real name.

    Speaking as a resident, you made our point for us!

  • posted by JUSTLOOKATCHYA

    November 27, 2017 10:39 am

    THANK YOU AND THOSE WHO THINK LIKE YOU FOR MAKING MORE TAGS AVAILABLE TO THOSE OF US WHO SHARE THE PRIVILEGE AND RESPONSIBILITY WE ALL HAVE TO HUNT AND ENJOY THE OUTDOORS. YOU MOST LIKELY WERE NOT ANY GOOD AT IT AND NOT VERY SUCCESSFUL SO YOU CHOOSE TO QUIT SOMETHING THAT YOU ARENT GOOD AT OR CANT FIND ANY ENJOYMENT IN SO YOU BADMOUTH PEOPLE WHO DONT LIVE IN YOUR STATE AND LABLE THEM AS IDIOTS WHO SHOOT ANYTHING THAT MOVES. I DONT FEEL SORRY FOR YOU BEING SO IGNORANT HAVING THOUGHTS LIKE THAT OF PEOPLE WHO SPEND ALOT OF MONEY IN YOUR STATE ON TAGS, HOTELS, GAS , OUTFITTERS , FOOD AND ALOT MORE. THERE ARE SOME BAD PEOPLE WHO DO DUMB THINGS AND THEY ALL ARE NOT FROM ANOTHER STATE, OBVIOUSLY.

  • posted by Bucky

    November 26, 2017 4:06 pm

    The area I have hunted for 17 years has declined so where are these numbers coming from?

  • posted by Shane hale

    November 25, 2017 1:40 pm

    I think there will be a Need to increase elk tags in the future once the population of wolves and grizzly are under control!

  • posted by Thomas

    November 25, 2017 7:54 am

    I m opposed, I do think residents need prefrence points, non residents have had them for yrs. And no way do I agree on regions for elk....to much pressure on public land...

  • posted by Matt howell

    November 25, 2017 6:55 am

    I've lived in Wyoming all my life we have to do something about the elk in this state the overgrazing of cattle and growing #s of elk and elk egos are ruining the deer habitat shut down some roads give the elk a place to go other than private land and you will harvest more to keep up with the natural increase in not apposed to more non residents watch how the elk are hunted for one season and you bet your ass you wouldn't want to get ran around like that for 15 days or so give the elk a chance to settle down shut down some roads not just in the forest but Blm ground as well

  • posted by Thomas

    November 24, 2017 7:34 pm

    Residents need prefrence points, so we have an equal chance at limited quota tags...non residents have had them for yrs, and hunt areas more frequently than I do, because the lack of prefrence points. It's time for resident prefrence points. No more opertunity for the non residents..

  • posted by Dave Hoshour

    November 24, 2017 6:57 pm

    The big bucks we nonresidents pay is what allows Wyoming residents to continue to hunt for so little money. It also funds a lot of G&F conservation work that means more game on the mountain, especially when you add what we donate to places like RMEF. There are many of us that don't have the money to pay an outfitter or buy an auction tag, regular, responsible people with jobs like yours who help keep plenty of Wyoming residents in business like restaurants, gas stations, sporting goods stores, motels, etc. While 16-20% of the tags in a sparsely populated, game-rich state may seem like a lot, we do indeed contribute a lot to your fine state and I am thankful for the opportunity, even though it costs a lot.

  • posted by Jay durtsche

    November 24, 2017 5:38 pm

    The real deal here I think is the G andF are having a hard time with a shortage of funds and the out of staters pay a lot more money for tags so this looks like an easy way to help them self’s out! I’m just worried about the residents getting the short end of the stick!

  • posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    November 24, 2017 3:53 pm

    Yep,cater to those out of state hunters,and fishermen,they spend the big bucks and that is what Wyomingites are after.Many of us quit hunting years ago because of the out of state idiots who shoot at anything t5hat moves.

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