From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 33 - November 11, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Governor proposes wildlife trust fund

by Cat Urbigkit

Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal visited Pinedale Monday to tell a legislative committee that his supplemental budget request will include additional funding for sage grouse management.

Freudenthal said that both sage grouse and certain wildlife disease issues need to be addressed now and can’t wait until the next budget session. He made his comments at the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee meeting held at the Sublette County Library in Pinedale earlier this week.

With the potential for both agricultural activities and natural gas development to be severely reduced due to concerns for sage grouse conservation, Freudenthal said additional spending was appropriate. Thus, an additional $500,000 will be allocated for this matter, Freudenthal said.

In addition, $1.2 million will be allocated to address brucellosis and chronic wasting disease. Freudenthal said these issues need to be addressed “fairly immediately.”

Freudenthal’s main reason for attending the legislative committee meeting was to present his proposal for the “Wyoming Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Permanent Account Act.”

The proposed act is based on the principle that “development of Wyoming’s mineral resource endowment will be enhanced by allocating state resources to the maintenance and improvement of wildlife and wildlife habitat.” A permanent account would be established to provide grants for

• improvement and maintenance of existing terrestrial habitat necessary to maintain native wildlife populations;

• improvement and maintenance of existing aquatic habitat necessary to maintain native fish populations;

• acquisitions of terrestrial or aquatic habitat when existing habitat is determined critical, or is present in minimal amounts, and acquisition presents the necessary factor in attaining or preserving desired native wildlife or fish population levels;

• conservation, maintenance, protection and development of native non-game wildlife resources; or

• participation in water storage projects for wildlife and instream flow purposes.

The fund would be managed by a board consisting of two WG&F commissioners, two members of the Board of Agriculture, and three citizens, which Freudenthal advocated include a sportsman, tourism representative and a member of the conservation community. Appointments would be subject to senate confirmation.

The bill would allow the money to be used to purchase property or to purchase conservation easements. For all acquisitions, public access must be guaranteed. Groups who could participate in getting grants includes non-profits, Freudenthal said, “who share these goals.”

As for conservation easements, Freudenthal said “it doesn’t matter” to him who holds the easement, either the land trust or the state. Another potential would be to buy 10-year wildlife easements.

For purchases, Freudenthal said there would be some cases where outright purchase of land might be the preferred option, but added the state doesn’t need to acquire a great deal of additional acreage, since, “We have plenty of sate land that ought to be disposed of.”

Freudenthal called his draft legislation “a New Testament proposal” that focuses on “stewardship” rather than “dominion over the land.”

Freudenthal didn’t include a budget figure in his draft bill, stating that it matters less how much money was to be allocated as to establish this as a principle for state government. But under questioning from the committee, Freudenthal suggested $50-75 million, with some portion of it available immediately.

He admitted if all else failed, he’d “settle” for $20 million, with $5 million available in the near future.

Freudenthal said with the current mineral wealth Wyoming is experiencing, he is at the helm of a state government that will be seeing permanent fund balances rising into the $300-400 million range.

“It ain’t that I’m a good governor, but I’m an incredibly lucky one,” Freudenthal said.

Freudenthal said there has been a “structural shift” in the economy, in the energy industry, worldwide. That means that “we are at a revenue plateau” rather than a spike, according to the governor. “If we fail to act, I think we’re making a mistake,” Freudenthal said.

Freudenthal’s proposal was one of three presented to the committee for consideration. The committee decided to have the three proposals combined for further consideration.

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