Fish and Wildlife Task Force holds final meeting in Casper
Casper – On March 20, the Governor’s Fish and Wildlife Task Force held their final meeting to discuss the outcomes of the program review of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and to finalize their recommendations for the Governor’s consideration.
The Fish and Wildlife Task Force was created by Gov. Matt Mead in 2015 to look at future funding for wildlife management in the state of Wyoming, says Governor’s Office Policy Advisor Matt Fry.
“In 2013, the Legislature debated increasing license fees for the WGFD, and that was unsuccessful,” he explains.
Fry continues, “There were a number of hunters, anglers and general sportsmen’s groups that met with the Governor and asked if he would be willing to set up some sort of a task force or group that would look at opportunities for broadening and stabilizing funding and finding additional opportunities for the department to support wildlife management.”
The 19-member task force boasts a wide variety of experts and stakeholders spanning across the outdoor industry.
The task force meeting ended with approximately 10 recommendations, which will be presented to the Governor.
WGFD Director Scott Talbott explains that an external review of WGFD programs and fund usage was one of the primary recommendations of the task force.
“There was an inquiry from the task force to have a review of WGFD programs,” he says. “An outside group came in and did that review. It was finalized and published in 2016. This was the first chance for the task force to discuss the report.”
The review looked at 12 WGFD programs and asked the question, “Were we were spending the money we were getting in an effective manner?” Talbott comments.
He continues, “The report to the task force clearly indicated that the funds were being used effectively.”
“The task force spent quite a bit of time talking about the role of those who hunt, fish and use wildlife in other ways and how they pay for management,” says Talbott.
He notes that historically, hunters and anglers have funded all of wildlife management.
In 2005, the state began allocating funds from its General Fund dollars to wildlife management.
“Since that time, there were five WGFD programs that were covered by the General Funds, and those programs were aquatic invasive species, sage grouse, wolves, our vet services program and our sensitive species program,” explains Talbott.
According to Talbott, the reasoning behind the change in 2005 was because those five programs impact the entire state, rather than just hunters and anglers.
“It was felt that the general public could participate in the funding those, and that’s when General Fund monies became available,” he says. “However, this year, the Legislature cut funding from the General Fund.”
The task force recommended a bifurcation of the WGFD budget, so hunters and anglers would only pay for programs that support game animals and a different funding source would be used for non-game animals.
“They recommended generally funding those programs that did not benefit hunters and anglers or looking for alternative funding sources,” comments Talbott.
He continues, “The task force recommended that those programs that involved hunting or fishing be funded by the licenses and fees, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission would have the authority to set those fees.”
Maneuverability and license prices were another big discussion topic for the task force, says Talbott.
“When we look at the issue, the price of licenses are set in Wyoming Statute, and when we look at license numbers, those are established by Commission on an annual basis,” he explains.
Talbott continues, “WGFD also receives federal funding from taxes on the sale of guns, ammo, boats and fishing equipment. The amount that Wyoming receives changes, and there are many other issues that influence fluctuations, sometimes really dramatically year-to-year.”
To allow for greater flexibility and increase ability to respond to fluctuations, the task force discussed transitioning some authority to set license fees to the Game and Fish Commission.
“There was a discussion about moving license fee authority to the Game and Fish Commission, so the Commission could respond to those fluctuations in a more timely manner,” he notes.
“There is a lot of uncertainty ahead for funding of WGFD and its management of the public’s wildlife,” says Talbott.
According to Fry, the March meeting is expected to be the last formal meeting of the task force.
After the recommendations are finalized, those accepted by the Governor will be sent to a legislative committee for review.
The task force’s recommendations will be made available to the public once they are finalized.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.