Wyoming legislature passes amended bill for excess wildlife management
The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee held a working meeting Oct. 30-31 at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie.
During the meeting, the state legislature discussed and passed draft House Bill (HB) 24LSO-0114, Excess wildlife population damage amendments.
According to the subcommittee assigned to work on the bill, drastic changes were made since the legislature’s September meeting, including a clarification noting extraordinary damage to rangelands is included in the type of damage the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) can compensate landowners and lessees for, and the WGFD is authorized to establish – by rule – methods, factors and formulas for determining the amount to compensate a landowner or lessee for.
Additionally, a line was added to the definition of extraordinary damage to rangeland, stating, “It also shall be presumed extraordinary damage to rangeland has occurred when the consumption of forage exceeds 15 percent of the estimated total annual production of forage in the year damage is claimed, or if the population estimate of any big game exceeds the population objective established by the commission for two or more consecutive years.”
“The department may rebut either of those assumptions based on the individual claim, and amounts to compensate a landowner or lessee will be based on the Animal Unit Month (AUMs) payable to the state for state trust lands or a multiplier of not less than 150 percent of the private land lease rate for the affected area,” the amendment continues.
“I would like to note the subcommittee assigned to work on this believes the bill is workable, while also meeting the goals, which are twofold – it moves us towards more effective management of the elk herd, and in the meantime, in particular areas where elk are overpopulated, we are going to compensate landowners for the additional burden on their rangelands,” noted Rep. Barry Crago (R-H40).
To provide some clarification on language in the bill, Crago explained AUMs are set annually by the state, not the landowner or lessee, and 150 percent was agreed upon by the subcommittee to try to compensate for additional collateral expenses that come with excess wildlife damage on rangeland but may be hard to quantify.
Rick King, chief game warden and chief of the Wildlife Division for the state of Wyoming, noted although there is still work to be done on the bill, the department believes it is in a good place to work into their current damage claim program.
“Our current damage program does consider growing crop damage, and we have an extensive program to evaluate and pay for damaged crops like hay and corn and other growing and/or stored crops,” he said. “The new part of this bill is extraordinary damage to rangeland pastures, which, up until this point, haven’t really been compensated for under our current program.”
“What we would envision under this bill, is if a particular ranch had a large number of elk on their place – upland or on rangeland pastures – they could call and notify WGFD of the damage, and we would respond by initiating an investigation to start the damage claim process,” King explained.
“We would conduct counts of the elk on the place and continue monitoring damage until the elk left or the damage ended,” he added. “During this timeframe, we would try to mitigate the damage as best we could through a hunting season, hazing, etc., but at the end of the year, we would sit down with the producer and they would be able to file a damage claim under this bill for lost forage from elk.”
King explained the calculation for damage to rangelands is fairly straightforward – multiply the amount of elk by the number of days on said rangelands and convert to AUMs.
Although the program would require an additional workload from the WGFD, King noted he believes the department is well positioned to take it on.
King also explained damage claims under the current program are paid for with Game and Fish Commission dollars received by license application fees and other internal revenue, not through annual funding.
“Right now, by statute, we set aside money from license application fees to maintain a pot of money for our damage program, which currently equates to about $500,000,” he said. “However, our annual damage program has been costing us more in the neighborhood of $1 to $1.5 million in the past several years, so we use other Game and Fish Commission revenue to cover the expense.”
Following this discussion, Sen. Cheri Steinmetz (R-S03) opened the floor to public comment.
Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna and Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (WyFB) Director of Public and Governmental Affairs Brett Moline, each representing their respective organizations, offered support for the bill.
“Another point I would like to make on this piece of legislation is it needs to be looked at in the broader context,” stated Magagna. “Is this the answer to excess elk population? It is not. But, it is a tool to recognize the financial impact of excess elk populations.”
“It will only work – and I believe it will work – if it is used in combination with other aggressive methods of elk population control WGFD has recently embraced rather strongly,” he added.
Magagna also offered some insight into the intentional decision to not include Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service-managed lands in the bill.
“Under normal circumstances, producers only pay for what they use on these lands, and there is concern if I am deriving a financial benefit from a piece of private land which I am not entitled to because I am not grazing or harvesting it,” he stated. “Third, some public lands are utilized by more than one permittee in an area so it becomes really hard.”
“With this, I offer our strong support for this bill as it stands and urge you to continue moving forward with it the way it is at this time,” he continued.
Moline commented, “WyFB is sitting in support of this bill. I think this is a tool that will have several incentives for both the landowner and WGFD. I am willing to give this a try.”
Passing the bill
During further committee discussion, new amendments were passed on the bill.
Crago and Sen. Tim French (R-S18) made a friendly amendment to clarify damage claims can be made by lessees of state or private lands.
Sen. John Kolb (R-S12) proposed an amendment to add a July 1, 2030 sunset date to the bill. The amendment was seconded by Sen. Bob Ide (R-S29) and passed with a majority vote.
After failing upon first vote, French made a motion to reconsider the bill, which was seconded by Crago. The motion passed, and upon further discussion, HB 24LSO-0114, Excess wildlife population damage amendments, as amended, was passed in the Wyoming Legislature.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.