Elk numbers: Joint Ag Committee hears access challenges
Lander – During the 2011 interim, a subcommittee of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee of the Wyoming Legislature looked into large game damage to agriculture and drafted a bill to take before the 2012 Budget Session.
Ultimately, the bill was not introduced during the most recent session, and challenges related to large game and agriculture are again an interim topic for the committee in 2012.
“We felt it was important to revisit the issue,” said Representative Glenn Moniz of House District 46 in Albany County, who led the effort last year, at the May 8 meeting of the Joint Ag Committee in Lander. “We do have a draft bill that focuses on issues the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) already has the ability to address – like the taking of elk in areas that are a problem. We feel that, although they have the authority, for whatever reason they may or may not be doing it.”
Moniz mentioned the biggest challenge – landowners who don’t allow hunting on their properties, and how that problem continues to perplex both the WGFD and the ag industry.
“From our point of view, it is about game damage, because of the damage to forage resources, but I don’t think the answer lies in addressing the damage issue,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “We could strengthen the rules that require the Game and Fish to pay more for damages, but from a livestock owner’s perspective, we just want to be able to use a reasonable percentage of our grass.”
He continued that the answer needs to lie not in how to pay for damages, but how to manage big game to prevent overpopulation.
HMAP sees success
WGFD Deputy Director John Emmerich agreed, saying, “We need to somehow find a solution in getting access to the areas where there are refuges, and addressing individual ranches that don’t allow access.”
He mentioned the Hunter Management Access Program (HMAP), which started two years ago, and the fact that people can now buy more than two elk licenses.
“We will issue an emergency regulation after July 1 to set up a rulemaking process that will identify areas in the state that need it, and we’ll take those to the Commission for approval, so we’ll have that tool available to hunters in a lot of the problem areas this fall,” he explained of the additional licenses.
Speaking of HMAP, Emmerich said it has provided the most success in getting to landowners who haven’t allowed access to open their land for hunting.
“The first place we tested was in Hunt Area 7 between Glenrock and Douglas, and we hired a temp who worked full-time during hunting season, and was there every day, working directly with hunters and landowners,” he said. “In that area, the program split the big herds and pushed them to other areas where there was access already.”
The same program was implemented in Areas 61, 62 and 63 in Fall 2011 on Meeteetse Creek and the Wood River, and the WGFD hired two individuals who worked full-time with landowners and hunters in that area.
“We have to accept the fact that a lot of the problem exists because of individual landowners who choose not to allow any hunting on their land. We would strongly resist anything that would force people to allow public on their land to hunt wildlife, but we need to incentivize people through some means,” said Magagna. “How do we enhance and encourage more landowners to allow some managed hunting on their land to control these populations?”
“We’re committed to continue to hire the temp individuals to manage hunts, and we’ve had some success in getting the landowners to open up areas,” stated Emmerich. “We’re willing to sit down and continue the dialogue to find new ways of doing it. The tools are there – the key is getting the individual landowners that don’t allow access to open up. We need to keep pushing hard, and I think we can get it done. We will continue to talk about possible options, but I’m not sure we need legislation to move this forward. I think we’ve had good success, and need some time to see if we can accomplish it with the tools we’ve put in place.”
“It’s a very important issue, and we encourage the committee to allow this discussion to go forward,” said Magagna. “I would encourage us, together with Game and Fish, to come up with something to bring to your September meeting.”
Ultimately, the Joint Ag Committee voted to move the subject forward. The Legislative Services Office will continue to work on drafting a bill, and Representative Moniz will continue his leadership in the discussions.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.