House denies introduction of bill to increase Game and Fish license fees
by Dustin Bleizeffer
— February 10, 2014
This afternoon the Wyoming House voted down introduction of legislation (26 ayes to 32 nays) that would have increased Game and Fish license fees — the second year in a row that a license fee increase has been denied.
Conversely, the Senate approved introduction of SF 45, a bill to shift the cost of the Game and Fish department’s grizzly bear management program and the cost of health insurance increases for department employees to the state’s General Fund. That bill would help free up approximately $5 million in the portion of the Game and Fish budget that is supported by license fees.
“I’m disappointed,” Catherine Thagard, coordinator for the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance, said of the defeat of HB 31 (license fees). “But, from my perspective, this is just the beginning of the discussion. … We need sustainable support of Wyoming’s wildlife resource.”
Last year’s defeated license fee increase was for 20 percent, while this year’s legislation called for a 10 percent increase.
The Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance formed in response to the defeat of license fee increases in the 2013 legislative session. In the run up to the 2014 session, the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance pointed to new polling that suggests 63 percent of Wyoming residents support an increase in license fees.
A steadfast opponent of license fee increases, Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, has argued that a fee increase cannot be justified until the Game and Fish department makes clear its priorities, goals and conducts a detailed cost-benefit analysis of programs within its budget. “They (license fee increase supporters) either don’t understand it or they’re afraid to do the cost-benefit analysis,” Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife executive director Bob Wharff told WyoFile after the House vote on Monday afternoon.
Wharff said his organization doesn’t want to see the Game and Fish Department suffer, and said that it would support license fee increases if the cost-benefit analysis can be made. “We need to do a program by program assessment.”
Wyoming lawmakers imposted $6.6 million in combined cuts to the Game and Fish Department’s 2013 and 2014 budgets — without the offset of the license fee increase — resulting in the closure of public lands access and youth recruitment programs, and resulting in a smaller staff. Many fear the cuts, in addition to pending cuts for 2015 and beyond, may seriously hamstring the amount of in-the-field enforcement and biology research, potentially diminishing Wyoming’s wildlife resource, which sportsmen argue is at the core of Wyoming’s $2.9 billion annual tourism and travel industry.
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