Subcommittee address impacts of large game on agriculture
Afton – A report to the Joint Ag Committee meeting in September highlighted what’s being done to mitigate large game damage to the agriculture industry.
“What precipitated the sub-committee’s appointment was to relieve the burden on landowners in having large numbers of elk,” said committee co-chair Representative Mark Semlek. “It had to do with inadequate compensation for landowners who had a disproportionate number of elk on their property.”
Following a meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources committee on May 2-3, a sub-committee, consisting of Senators Larry Hicks and Fred Emerich and Representatives Stan Blake, Rita Campbell and Glenn Moniz, was formed to address the issue.
A meeting of the Sub-Committee on Large Game Damages to Agriculture on Sept. 15 brought forward a number of concerns by landowners, which were presented and discussed in Afton on Sept. 26.
Current programs require the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) to pay damages to property caused by large game animals.
“Wyoming Statute 23-1-901 requires that the department pay certain agricultural damage. The amount paid increased to $468,000 last year in livestock, crops and large carnivore predation,” explained WGFD Director Scott Talbott in Afton. “There is no cap on that fund.”
“Elk damage was actually lower than it has been since 2006,” added Talbott.
However, from input received at the Rawlins meeting on Sept. 15, the sub-committee noted problems with the creation of artificial refuges and communications with WGFD and offered a potential solution in the form of a concept paper and draft legislation.
During the Sept. 26 meeting, Hicks asked of Talbott, “How many damage claims are made, and how much money is paid for lost forage or standing forage on rangeland compared to alfalfa, barley, corn or beans? My understanding is that very little is claimed.”
“There are certainly provisions to pay for that, but it is not a commodity we get many claims on,” replied Talbott. “About one percent of the damage that we pay right now is for extraordinary damage to grass. Where we have a lot of elk damage, about 40 percent of that is native grass and rangeland as opposed to irrigated.”
“The department does have ways to calculate damage on everything from a variety of different species. Those damage claim payments can be made on consumption or actual damage,” continued Talbott. “Wyoming game wardens are responsible for that, and our game wardens are very flexible.”
Talbott also remarked that 82 percent of claims are paid in full; the remaining cases are usually denied because of deadlines. Landowners are required to notify the WGFD within 15 days of the damage and apply within 60 days.
“The current programs that are available aren’t effective and they aren’t helping. The bulk of the testimony from Rawlins is that we need to examine other alternative. We need to be able to use the programs in an efficient fashion,” said Hicks.
The sub-committee offered the information obtained from their meeting in Rawlins for consideration.
“At the Rawlins meeting, most of the landowner testimony involved hazing the elk off WGFD property and onto private property,” said Hicks.
“I found it problematic that the Game and Fish didn’t have any communication with the livestock industry in that area,” said Blake. “The WGFD didn’t tell the landowners or get permission to haze the elk off the land. I think we need more communication with WGFD and landowners.”
Moniz added, “It was obvious from our meeting that there needs to be some sort of relationship developed.”
“I’m fairly proud of the level of communication,” said Talbott, addressing concerns. “There are situations, however, where it can improve. Those situations will not happen again, and one of my priorities is to put the visit back in wildlife management.”
At the May 2 Joint Ag meeting, Brian Nesvik of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department explained that some landowners refuse to allow hunting on their land, making those locations artificial refuges. The resulting large herds migrate onto other landowners’ land, resulting in extensive damage.
“There are landowners who have no interest in agriculture values and are only interested in wildlife. That creates some very difficult situations,” said Talbott. “In the last eight years, we have initiated several new programs to allow landowners to assist in harvest to allow access for wildlife management.”
In an attempt to offer a solution to large game damage to agriculture, Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, authored a concept paper addressing the management of wildlife and presented it at the Sept. 15 meeting.
Magagna said the intent of the paper was to provide some incentive to private landowners who do not allow hunting access.
The concept paper provides that if the elk populations of any hunt area exceed the population objective by 20 percent, and on receiving a petition signed by landowners representing the majority of private lands within the area, the WGFD should close the area to hunting of antlered elk and assign cow elk removal to the landowners. Additionally, the paper provided that the Game and Fish Commission “may authorize the sale of licenses permitting that take of two or more non-antlered elk.”
“It may be part of the answer,” said Magagna. “We spend a lot of time discussing the problem, but we spend far too little time discussing a solution.”
“Anything we can do to help move this issue toward a solution, we are certainly willing to do so,” commented Magagna on behalf of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
“I think the concept paper has one tool that may be fairly valuable,” commented Talbott.
Wyoming statutes currently limit one person to taking no more than two elk. In areas where access is restricted, the ability to kill more animals may help in population management.
“The access to those elk and ability to kill those elk is a large part of the challenge that we are currently facing,” said Talbott.
Talbott also mentioned that he would continue working to improve communications and address large game damage.
Ultimately, the sub-committee realized draft legislation was not ready to be presented to the Wyoming Legislature and chose to pursue the issue with the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee next year, as wildlife legislation falls within their scope.
“This is a serious issue. I don’t think it matters that there is overlap between the Joint Ag and Joint Travel, Recreation and Wildlife committees,” said Moniz. “The important issue is that this doesn’t die.”
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.