Somewhere in the Big Horn Mountains

Once again, I had the opportunity to attend Governor Mead’s F&W Task Force meeting, held in Casper, WY. Between 8-10 people from the public attended the meeting on Wednesday, including two G&F Commissioner’s; President Charles Price and Vice President Carrie Little.

As the Task Force apparently requested the G&F Department to bring back another series of budget projections, most of the Wednesday meeting was focused on reviewing the G&F budget projections, etc. Several varying scenarios were presented and explained to the Task Force. The projections remained relatively the same with the gap or delta as they are now calling it (the difference between income and expense projections) still shows that the G&F Department will be running out of funding somewhere in 2020-2021, if nothing changed and inflation was at 3%.

Bifurcation of their budget was discussed a little bit at their May meetings. It was difficult to discern and no one mentioned if any communications had taken place between Task Force members between the May meetings and the June meetings, but it appeared that at least some communications had transpired between meetings and between some Task Force Members.

According to the Task Force, a bifurcated budget would look something like this: the Wyoming State Legislature would have funding authority, via general funds, over the non-game aspects of wildlife management. The G&F Commission would retain complete control over their Commission budget, license revenue would be used to pay for hunting, fishing and trapping aspects of wildlife management. The Task Force is now wrestling with how they could address future increases in license fees as under their new proposal, the G&F Commission would have authority to increase license fees without legislative approval.

Many of the Task Force members stated that they believe Wyoming is now at a very critical crossroads (and I agree with them).

The G&F Department affirmed that an additional $1.18 million dollars from general funds would completely cover non-game management costs of the 5 programs currently receiving some portion of general funding. They also stated that roughly another $2 million dollars would be required to cover current grizzly bear management costs. In total, the Task Force concluded that $3 million additional general fund dollars would completely cover all non-game management costs. This would in essence allow the Wyoming State Legislature to completely cover all current non-game management costs; furthermore, it would allow Wyoming to capture and articulate actual costs of non-game management to the State. This could be a good thing as Wyoming would then be able to document and articulate the actual hard costs of unfunded federal mandates, specifically regarding wildlife management, which the federal government has foisted upon it.

The Task Force held some discussion about the indexing or allowing the WY G&F Commission to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to determine how much license fees should increase to adjust for annual rates of inflation. The Task Force eventually concluded that it would probably be more successful to allow the Legislature to set an acceptable percentage for license fees to increase or to set some parameters for increases to be allowed by the G&F Commission without Legislative approval. Indexing will likely not be considered as the Legislature would need to retain some kind of oversight. It does appear as though the Task Force believes the bifurcation of the G&F budget is a potential solution; however, the Legislature will likely have some trepidation in eliminating of one of the few controls they have over the WY G&F Department. Undoubtedly, the Devil will be in the details which are yet to have been revealed.

Another topic discussed by the Task Force was an audit of the G&F Department. It was suggested that Western Management Institute (WMI), be hired as an independent, third party to review their budget. It was mentioned one of the Task Force members had direct ties to WMI and he stated “they were very friendly towards Director Talbot” and some Task Force members started to express concerns about potential conflicts should WMI perform the audit. It was also mentioned that WMI is predominantly comprised of past state and federal wildlife professionals. It was also mentioned that Steve Williams, former Director of the USF&WS, is the current President of WMI.

WY SFW Board Members which had the opportunity to fly out to Washington D.C. can probably remember the meeting when we met with Director Williams. Those that attended many of the earlier wolf management meetings may also remember him as well. A brief discussion was held and the Task Force agreed not to specify who should perform the audit of the G&F budget but concluded that an unbiased third party must perform the audit.

Chairman Ryan Lance also asked the Task Force to consider making the recommendation to Governor Mead that the corpus of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT) be fully funded at $200,000. It was unclear to me whether or not the Task Force actually agreed to take this action; however, a few of the Task Force members expressed some concern. No one mentioned that with Kim Floyd, Chairman of the WWNRT, is serving on the Task Force and that such an action might be problematic. Some members did enthusiastically endorse the idea to push for this to happen. This may not be an appropriate action to take as the Task Force has been charged with an entirely different purpose and I mentioned this to Chairman Lance upon the conclusion of the meeting on Thursday.

Upon the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, I felt compelled to speak as on Wednesday two Task Force members asked why I had not addressed them. Therefore, I took the opportunity to address the Task Force for the first time. I acknowledged the G&F had made several attempts to curtail their spending and that WY SFW was very much appreciative of their efforts. I was also compelled to address some rumors that have been pointed towards WY SFW as a Task Force member had implied that WY SFW was trying to defund the WY G&F Department. This has been circulated during the legislative session and continues today in an attempt to discredit WY SFW. Every one of the current programs which receive general funds was overwhelmingly supported by our organization. Furthermore, WY SFW had offered to assist the G&F perform cost/benefit analysis of some of their programs but to no avail.

In closing, I mentioned that several Legislators had asked the G&F for a list of priorities and they had been told that by statute, all wildlife was the responsibility of the G&F; therefore, all wildlife was their priority. Many Legislators expressed concern that with everything being a priority, by default, no priorities existed. Furthermore, I mentioned that there appears no end to the amount of money that could be spent on wildlife management without some kind of parameter being set or priorities defined. I mentioned that WY SFW would have liked the G&F Department to have simply stated that the species which are hunted, fished and trapped were their priority as they are the wildlife which derives income for the Department. Without taking care of these species, little to no money would be available for funding programs critical to non-game species.

Please mark your calendar and make plans to attend the next scheduled meeting of Governor Mead’s Fish & Wildlife Task Force. With so few Sportsmen or Sportswomen in attendance, what message are we sending to Governor Mead, the members of this Task Force and our elected officials? As your Representative, I will be in attendance; however, I believe this is such a critical juncture that I would encourage your attendance. Many outside sources are attempting to influence how wildlife is managed in Wyoming and you should not trust your heritage to chance!

The next scheduled meeting is Wednesday & Thursday, July 29-30th and will be held at the Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), located at 2211 King Blvd., Casper, WY. Wednesday’s meeting is from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm with Thursday being from 8:00 am until noon. You do NOT need to be here for all of the meetings; however, I urge your attendance and participation because too few are attending and this is sending the wrong message. Here is your chance to hold the G&F Department accountable to you as their primary constituents; hunters, anglers and trappers!

Breaking News, From the Desk of Bob Wharff