Meeting by teleconference, the Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners overcame technical difficulties to meet publicly Thursday. The original meeting, scheduled to be held in Cody over a span of two …
Meeting by teleconference, the Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners overcame technical difficulties to meet publicly Thursday. The original meeting, scheduled to be held in Cody over a span of two days, was restructured and the agenda shortened due to coronavirus concerns.
Commissioners and participants dialed in by phone for the 195-minute meeting. At first, static made it impossible to understand those speaking in the conference. But they found a fix by having the dozens of those dialing in place their phones on mute unless needing to talk. The meeting then went without hitches — other than a few canines responding in the background.
COVID-19 concerns led off the meeting. One of the first orders of business was canceling the spring Outdoors Expo, which was scheduled to be held in Casper in May. Brian Nesvik, director of the Game and Fish Department, said canceling now would save the department money rather than committing funds and then end up canceling later.
“I’m not sure we’re going to have kids back in school by the middle of May,” Nesvik said. “And even if we do, we’ve already heard from teachers they don’t expect to be able to leave. They’re gonna have a lot of catching up to do and they’re not going to want to leave school and come to Expo.”
Yet, Nesvik pledged to remain open for business despite having several challenges ahead. Practicing social distancing and having many parents employed who need to be home with children while school is canceled are the initial challenges.
“We’re communicating daily with all of our employees across the entire state. Our leadership team meets once a day to receive new information and make decisions that are necessary to deal with this virus outbreak,” Nesvik said.
The department was forced to close the Lander office last week due to several employees showing flu-like symptoms and COVID-19 is believed to be spreading in the community.
“A significant number of folks … were experiencing symptoms of a sickness,” Nesvik said. “We decided to … not have members of the public come into the office and potentially spread the virus further.”
But Nesvik was adamant that the Game and Fish is here to serve its customers and will continue conservation work.
“We are continuing to provide gaming services to the citizens of our state,” he said. “We are continuing to keep all of our facilities open, with the exception of Lander, and we are continuing to do our business and to make sure that we have employees at work unable to serve the public.”
Some employees will work from home. The department will limit meetings to 10 or less and the commission will continue to telework until the coast is clear. March is typically the start of season-setting meetings across the state, with local open houses that had been set to start this week. However, Commissioner Pat Crank of Cheyenne pointed out that “every season-setting meeting we will have from now to April would likely violate the CDC guidelines.”
Rick King, chief of the Wildlife Division, said each region will produce a video outlining all changes. The videos will be uploaded to the Game and Fish website by Thursday at https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Get-Involved/Public-Meetings.
“That will give folks time to review [the videos] before the comment period ends,” King said. “We’re well set up for receiving online comments.”
Comments are being accepted through 5 p.m. on April 3.
The Commission voted unanimously to elect Pete Dube, of Buffalo, as president and Crank as vice president. Dube replaces David Rael of Cowley, who was president over the past year.
“I want to congratulate David [Rael] on a wonderful year,” Dube said. “I appreciate his guidance and more importantly, I appreciate his friendship. And I also want to thank the department and I look forward to doing the best I can.”
The officers are elected for one-year terms; typically the vice president of the commission is elected president the following term. The group was scheduled to meet again April 20-21 in Riverton, but will opt for teleconferences until coronavirus concerns pass.