From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 33 - November 9, 2006
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WG&F license fee increases proposed

by Cat Urbigkit

This week, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee is convening in Cheyenne to consider a proposal to increase hunting, fishing and trapping fees 20 percent in the state ,effective in 2008.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department maintains that the increase is necessary to directly address the effects of inflation since the last fee increase. Given no decrease in license sales, this proposal is expected to generate $5.6 million. According to WG&F information, license buyers support smaller increases over shorter time periods, approximately every four years, rather than larger increases at longer intervals.

The legislature’s 2004 license fee adjustment was about a 20-percent increase for the majority of licenses. In 2001 deer licenses were increased 15 percent, and in 1997, the legislature approved a license fee adjustment that was about a 25-percent increase for the majority of licenses.

Though only about 120 of Wyoming’s 800 wildlife species are species that can be legally taken by hunters or anglers, WG&F is funded almost entirely by revenue from hunting and fishing licenses and special taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. The annual WG&F budget stands at about $45 million, with about 56 percent of that being personnel expenditures. The agency has 386 permanent full-time positions, along with at-will and seasonal employees accounting for an additional 98 positions, in addition to seven commissioners, for a grand total of 491.

According to the Wyoming Legislative Service Office, the legislature appropriated approximately $4 million for WG&F operations in FY07 and FY08. This funding is intended for brucellosis management, the Veterinarian Services section, and sage grouse programs. WG&F is now working with the legislature to find additional funding sources.

A statement from WG&F notes, “Long-term drought, energy development, urban expansion, diseases, federal requirements related to threatened and endangered species, and a variety of other issues are presenting wildlife managers with new and complex problems.”

WG&F prepared a summary of events leading to the need for additional funding, noting that between 1989 and 2005, WG&F’s expendable cash balances declined from $33 million to $21 million for a variety of reasons, including declining numbers of deer and antelope licenses issued (which traditionally constitute about 50 percent of the department’s license revenue and almost one-third of the department’s overall funding) have negatively impacted department revenues.

An annual average of 200,000 deer and antelope licenses were sold between 1983 and 1993, compared to an annual average of 125,000 between 1994 and 2004. The number of licenses issued has been reduced in response to lower deer and antelope numbers across the state. In 2005, 136,000 deer and antelope licenses were issued.

Expenditures relating to health insurance, gasoline and utility costs have had big increases, which haven’t been offset by the agency’s reduction efforts, and included elimination of two hatcheries, two warden positions and houses eliminated, closure of permanent check stations, and closure of three visitor centers. WG&G has also scaled back its educational programs and publications, and reduced funding for cooperative research.

WG&F has set forth two funding proposals, including the license fee increase and a “non-traditional funding proposal,” meaning the money would come from legislative allocations rather than sportsmen’s fees.

The WG&F commission and department identified 10 current programs they believe are appropriate for other sources of funding, with a total cost of $7.66 million. Replacing traditional license revenues for these programs with $7.66 million in legislative funding would allow the commission to maintain these programs and use the license revenue freed up as a result of this legislative funding to address priorities that are directly related to hunting, fishing and trapping. A similar line item amount, with adjustments for inflation, would be requested through the budget process for subsequent fiscal years.

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