From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 44 - January 26, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Bill outlaws habitat work

by Cat Urbigkit

A bill sponsored by the Wyoming Legislature's Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee that proposes to prohibit the intentional feeding of game animals could actually outlaw habitat improvements for game animals as well.

It appears to be the law of unintended consequences, since the bill's proponents said that wasn't the original intention of the bill.

House Bill 30 prohibits any person from intentionally attracting or feeding any big game or trophy game animal "by depositing, placing, distributing or scattering any attractant or food source" including "hay, salt, grain, fruit, nut, chemical, mineral, garbage or other substance or material used as an attraction, food source or enticement for big game or trophy game animals, regardless of the kind and quantity."

Although normal agricultural management practices are exempted, as are feeding programs authorized by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the bill's broad prohibitions raised the alarm for two Park County residents involved in natural resource issues.

Former Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Gary Lundvall of Cody joined retired Shoshone National Forest Ranger Bernie Spanogle in writing a letter to TRW Committee Chairman District 50 Representative Pat Childers to point out the bill "contains hidden details and agendas that will have severe ramifications to all the citizens of Wyoming."

Lundvall and Spanogle suggest in their letter, "Common landscaping and horticultural practices such as planting and having fruit trees, berry bushes, aspen, lawns, gardens, shrubs and other quality of life enjoyments will eventually be considered as attractants to big and trophy game animals."

Bob Wharff of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife questioned what constitutes normal ag practices under the proposal. Wharff pointed out it is common for ranchers to throw out a few bales of hay for moose in order to keep the animals out of their haystacks, where conflicts can occur. The bill could be interpreted to make this practice illegal, Wharff said.

Wharff also noted that a landowner might decide to plant certain species to improve habitat for deer or elk and find such an action outlawed under the bill. The same might be true for a property owner planting apatch of clover for local deer, or a deer enthusiast placing buck grower on his property to improve the local deer herd.

"I know that's not the intention," Wharff said, "but the devil is in the details."

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Terry Cleveland said, "That's not the way we perceive the bill" because it wasn't the department's intent to apply its provisions to growing forage.

"We didn't even think of it in those terms," Cleveland said, adding that his department is very willing to work with the TRW Committee in amending the bill to address concerns.

"We didn't even think about it in that context," he said. "We'd be willing to tweak the language somehow" to address legitimate issues.

Lundvall maintains that the bill "contains a taking of property rights and places the burden of food storage and attractan trequirements on private landowners to insure the delisting of grizzly bears and wolves is successful." He noted that under state law, grizzly bears and wolves are trophy game animals and are thus affected by the legislation.

Lundvall said that since elk and deer don't habitually eat garbage, nuts and other attractants, "this implies that the bill" is more about food storage regulations" than reducing the risk of disease transmission in game animals.

The Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Task Force had recommended a ban on the private feeding of elk, according to task force member Albert Sommers of Pinedale, but the proposed legislation took the issue further.

Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton said it appears that the bill needs some additional work. Hamilton said since the bill exempted normal agricultural practices, "I wasn't too concerned" until his attention was turned to the trophy game provisions and what could happen once wolves and grizzly bears are delisted.

"What does this bill do for folks in grizzly bear country who don't store their food in an approved container?" Hamilton questioned. "Is this an attractant? What happens to a rancher who doesn't dispose of his dead animals in a timely fashion?"

Wharff said the main problem with the bill is that "it sets a precedent that feeding's bad. We just can't go that way."

Wharff, who also served on the brucellosis task force, said the bill could start the state "down the slope" that if feeding animals is bad, the state shouldn't be doing it either, a notion he adamantly opposes. He said the state's program for feeding elk is necessary.

Cleveland said the genesis of the legislation was with the brucellosis group, but added that as the department worked on the bill, the wildlife division suggested it include trophy game in order to address human health and safety. Trophy game includes bears, lions and wolves.

Cleveland said the bill is clearly an attempt to minimize the potential for the transmission of disease between wildlife and livestock and was purposely crafted in effort to keep from negatively impacting agricultural activities.

The bill addresses the fact that when conflicts occur between humans and bears or wolves, the conflicts involve food habituation and with bears, almost always end up in killing of the bear.

Lundvall said in his view, "Animals are beginning to have more rights than humans and this bill is another step in that direction."

Spanogle pointed out in a 2004 letter to Park County officials, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department outlined what constituted "attractants" to trophy game species such as bears, mountain lions and wolves. In that letter, WG&F noted, "Livestock and livestock feed are strong attractants for bears."

The state wildlife agency recommended that in the Copperleaf Subdivision near Cody: "No fruit producing trees or shrubs should be planted. Plantings such as apple trees and chokecherry bushes are strong attractants for bears." The WG&F letter added, "No fish should be stocked in constructed ponds. Fish and fish food are strong attractants for bears."

"This proposed legislation is a food storage regulation, putting the enforcement of food storage in the WG&F's hands, both on and off public lands," the men noted in their letter. The bill would make violations a fifth-degree misdemeanor anda llow citations to be issued by either department officials or any peace officer.

"What this legislation will do is make a criminal out of every landowner who lives in or near bear, wolf and lion country," the men concluded.

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