August’s golden sunsets are quickly coming to an end, signaling that hunters clad in blaze orange are beginning to fan out into Wyoming’s mountains, prairies and forests in search of game.
Children will head into the field with their parents looking for their first deer or antelope; veterans will gear up for that once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat hunt they’ve planned for years.
But beyond the individual tales of quarry harvested and quarry lost, there will be a bigger story — of conserving and sustaining Wyoming’s wildlife.
Hunting is the subject of heated debate in some circles (generally to the east and west of here). But here’s a simple fact: It’s sportsmen and women who provide the money to manage Wyoming’s wildlife.
To help offset cuts they made to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s budget this year, state lawmakers increased hunting, fishing, trapping and watercraft registration licenses and fees. Those increases, which take effect Jan. 1, will require sportsmen to pay another $5 million per year. That’s on top of tens of millions of dollars they’ve already been paying.
“As with many wildlife agencies, hunters and anglers have traditionally provided nearly all the financial resources to support wildlife management, with 80 percent of our funds coming from license fees and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment,” the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s website explains.
In short, many non-hunting experiences in our state’s outdoors — like simply watching a herd of elk or enjoying a public access area — are made possible by hunters.
The system is not perfect; sportsmen’s interests do not always perfectly align with what’s best for wildlife. However, we believe it’s a natural and effective partnership on balance, because hunters and anglers are conservationists at their core.
Hunting and fishing are about much more than the act of killing an animal. Ask a hunter why they enjoy their sport, and you’re as likely to hear about the solitude and magnificence of Wyoming’s wild places as you are to hear about bagging the big one.
That’s why the Game and Fish generally finds support when they propose projects to restore wildlife habitat or reduce quotas when animal populations are down. Consumptive uses like hunting must be sustainable or they will cease to exist.
At some point in the coming weeks and months, it’s a near-certainty that your Facebook feed or this, your local newspaper, will bring you news of some hunters misbehaving. A trigger-happy numbskull may blast multiple animals and leave them to rot; a careless hunter may trespass on private property or make a mess of public lands; a poacher may try sneaking off with wildlife that rightfully belong to the people of Wyoming.
But amid that news, please keep in mind that, on the whole, hunters are the good guys and gals.
The Jackson Hole News & Guide recently reported that, between 2008 and 2016, Wyoming residents’ participation in hunting and fishing has either grown or stayed steady.
“At last count, 18 percent of the Equality State’s inhabitants purchased a fishing license, and 13.5 percent bought a hunting license,” the Jackson paper reported.
Renny MacKay, a spokesman for Game and Fish, told the News & Guide that rate is about double what you find in more urban states.
“The fact is that we’re a rural state, and we’re still very associated with our outdoor resources,” MacKay said.
We hope it stays that way and would encourage everyone — hunter, angler, photographer or wildlife watcher — to get out and enjoy what our state has to offer this fall.