CHEYENNE—A once-dead measure that would boost the price of some nonresident deer and pronghorn hunting licenses by as much as 300% has been revived.
Although it enjoyed support from a Gov. Mark Gordon-appointed committee and hunting advocacy groups, Senate File 60 – Nonresident hunting license application fee was voted down on the Senate floor in a 10-20 vote that swung partly on concerns it violated the Wyoming Constitution, which plainly states that revenue-raising bills must originate in the House.
Fast forward three weeks and a similar, though farther-reaching proposal, House Bill 200 – Nonresident hunting licenses-application fees, reemerged in the proper chamber of the statehouse, and it appears to have legs.
“We made an error when we were getting out bills, and this particular bill originated in the Senate,” Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) told the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee on Tuesday as they considered HB 200.
The measure cleared the committee, which Newsome chairs, shortly after her explanation.
As currently constructed, the legislation proposes major price hikes to nonresident hunting licenses for seven big game species plus grizzly bears, were they to be hunted. Notably, however, the increases would only apply to 40% of nonresident licenses, allowing the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to keep the other 60% of nonresident tags on the cheaper side. The theory of the two pools is that nonresident hunters with the means will pay more to increase their odds of drawing a license.
“You’re allowing those people that have the economic ability to say, ‘I’m willing to pay a lot more for this license,’” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), a bill sponsor, told WyoFile. “That 40% of nonresidents is going to subsidize the other 60% of them and the rest of the resident population.”
The idea for House Bill 200 traces from the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce, an 18-person committee Gov. Mark Gordon assembled in 2021 to study top-priority hunting opportunity and access issues. The group, which included Hicks, looked into — but could not agree on — increasing the percentage of elk, deer and pronghorn hunting licenses that go to residents versus nonresidents. (A bill that tilted the allocation toward residents for five other species did make it through the Legislature a year ago.) In the process of examining whether to take away money-making nonresident elk, deer and pronghorn tags, Hicks and others explored options that could offset the potential funding loss for the state agency.
Ultimately, the taskforce recommended pursuing the offset even though it didn’t recommend the budget-crunching drop in nonresident tag numbers, and HB 200 was born. With the split between resident and nonresident licenses remaining the same, it could end up being a considerable Game and Fish budget boost.
Testifying on Tuesday, Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik estimated that it would increase revenue by $5.7 million annually — a roughly 7% bump to the mostly self-supported agency’s $81.3 million budget.
To get there, HB 200 proposes boosting fees on 40% of nonresident licenses as follows: Elk would go from $576 to $1,258; Deer, $288 to $826; Pronghorn, $288 to $874; Bighorn sheep, $2,318 to $3,000; Mountain goat, $2,160 to $2,750; Moose, $1,980 to $2,750; Bison, $4,400 to $6,000; Grizzly bear, $6,000 to $7,500.
Under the proposal, the remaining 60% of nonresident licenses would then stay flat.
“It keeps the floor on the floor and raises the ceiling,” Hicks said. “If you take the high price and the low price and the 60-40 differential and average those out, [costs are] pretty close to what the regional market is.”
Lobbyists for outfitters and hunting advocacy groups have so far backed the bifurcated fee hike.
“We think that it’s going to have long-term benefits for the industry and long-term benefits for the Game and Fish,” Bill Novotny of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association testified on Tuesday.
Jessi Johnson, lobbying for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, had a similar take. While testifying Jan. 12 about the earlier iteration of the legislation, she praised how the proposal doesn’t pull the rug out from do-it-yourself hunters.
“This one was a really easy one to get behind,” Johnson said. “Having that split I think is important.”
Still, some lawmakers have balked at the steep fee hikes, even for a subset of licenses.
Rep. Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn) tried to slash the increases with an amendment on Tuesday, but couldn’t get his fellow committee members on board.
“Doubling and tripling some of these numbers,” Western said, “that’s just a really tough pill to swallow.”
Rep. Abby Angelos (R-Gillette) joined Western in voting against HB 200, but the ayes on the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee beat out the nays 7-2. Now that HB 200 has cleared the committee, it faces a Monday deadline to be considered by the entire House.
Greed. Pure and simple.
As I was researching NR costs in surrounding states I spoke with some license application services. These services specialize in helping NR hunters navigate all the application requirements for various states. They assured me that NR hunters are watching this closely and if approved and becomes law they will abondon applying in Wyoming more than they already are. That got me to thinking that this works well for outfitters. It could very well reduce many of those NR do-it-yourself or hunt with family and friends type hunters, you know the people that spend money at all of gas stations, restaurants, motels etc.. Outfitters have no love for these folks and would gladly see them out of their hair. If this works for NR hunters, then the only thing they have left is to figure out how do we reduce the number of resident hunters whom they don’t care for either.
As a board member of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation around 1985 I lobbied against the 2 tier price for nonresidents. The bill passed with more than one Legislator telling me, “we have to try something for the outfitters.” At the time there was a pretty hard push for landowner and outfitter licenses. I think the 2 price approach was an effort at compromise.
My thoughts on all of this back then was that outfitters should sell their services, not the publics wildlife. By the same token, hunters should not expect a license because they use an outfitter.
The theory back then, as now, was that those who could afford higer priced licenses would be more likely to use an ouffitter. It didn’t work out that way 35 years ago. It won’t work any better today.
Colorado keeps nonresident fees much lower than Wyoming. The emphasis is on getting tourists here to spend money with local businesses. I think that you have to consider that well-to-do folks can be the least likely to tolerate being ripped off. They did not get rich by being generous. Maybe I am wrong and they will come. However, if they don’t come the state government and businesses lose. We may be seeing a few more big spenders here in Colorado and a lot more spendthrifts. I guess there are a lot of risk-takers in the Wyoming legislature. Please give us a report and make sure all local business gets a copy.
Gee, and here I thought the Backward State was gonna make its fortune with bitcoins and other play money. Y’all sure know how to pick ’em at election time. LOL! Back to territorial status for you!
When I see the prices I think to myself, wow….I could never afford to do that. On the other hand, many others will be happy to pay the extra for an opportunity to hunt in Wyoming. One thing is for sure, if the proposal for 40% of NR licenses to be sold at a much higher price isn’t supported by NR hunters, it will become obvious pretty quickly in left over licenses. Those I would guess, will end up in the 60% pool.
I attended many of the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force meetings. None of the members of the task force that have been testifying in support of this bill has made any mention of the task force considering a “Special Outfitter” draw system whereas 40-50% of NR Elk, Deer and Antelope licenses would be set aside for people that applied for one of these special outfitter tags must engage the services of an outfitter. Thankfully, that did not see the light of day because of so much backlash. Instead the outfitters on that task force and their cronies made an end around play and are taking our NR “special license” draw system that has been in place for years and turning it into a “outfitter draw” by raising prices so high that the average blue collar hunter dreaming of hunting Wyoming can’t afford a crack at one of these licenses any longer. If approved this bill with these obscene price increases would move many applicants that now apply for a reasonably priced “special license” back into the “general license” draw making it more difficult to draw a tag simply because the numbers of applicants will increase for a limite d amount of licenses.
Sy Gilliland, president of the Wyoming Outfitter & Guides Association and Task Force member when trying to push forward the outfitter only draw stated in a meeting i attended that with Wyoming’s wildlife numbers have declining for years and most likely will continue to do so. I found it curious that Brian Nesvik, Director of the Wyoming Game & Fish Dept., Pete Dube a Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner and Pat Crank, recent member of the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission all members of the Task Force never pushed back on Mr. Gilliland’s statement. So, if big game numbers continue to decline as these folks evidently believe that too will put more pressure on the average working man and woman from ever drawing a tag. Their chances decrease, more applicants, fewer available tags.
This is important to me because I have plenty of family and friends that are blue collar NR hunters that I would like them to have a reasonable chance to hunt with them. In addition, I have 10 grandkids, I do not know where their lives will take them. There is a good chance they may become a NR hunter.
As a former G&F Commissioner I know G&F has plenty of money as I sat on their financial committee. The Outfitters do not need any help with clients. Wyoming issues over 12,000 NR elk tags, outfitters only booked 3,496 of them. Wyoming issued over 16,000 NR deer tags, outfitters only booked 2,742 of them.
Wyoming issued over 12,300 NR Antelope tags, outfitters only booked 2,828 of them. These numbers can be verified by going to the G&F website and the Wyoming Outfitter & Guides website.
If this bill becomes law it essentially takes our special license draw system and turn s it into a special outfitter system. The outfitters know that people that can afford these prices will most likely engage their services all the while squeezing out the working men and women of our country.
This bill is full of greed and collusion neither of which have a place in our Wyoming.
If you agree please writ to your representatives and ask them for a “NON” on this one.
So…..is anyone out there able to explain how the bifurcation of the draw would work for non-residents? In other words, of all tags available in a draw, how many would be allocated for the 40% at the high price versus the number of tags available for those who can only afford to be in the 60 % draw?
“Ultimately, the taskforce recommended pursuing the offset even though it didn’t recommend the budget-crunching drop in nonresident tag numbers, and HB 200 was born.” This is the crux of HB200. It will make the odds for some species for the so called “poor” regular nonresident hunters even worse. Also, while I believe there is some validity to HB200 in terms of revenue increases, doubling the fees should be looked at closer and adjusted down so that the “somewhat poor” will have a better choice and chance at drawing a non-resident tag. I agree it is a bitter pill to swallow as written.
This bill makes sense and increases revenue for Game and Fish, a huge positive. Those non residents that can afford to hunt will still come. The locals will not be harmed. Sounds like a win/win!
This getting absolutely ridiculous. Out of state hunters get gouged enough. Gas/meals/rooms/all hunters get gouged on supplies and list goes on. Your actually killing off future hunters of younger generations. Game is driven from public to private lands the way it is. But maybe on one hand when out of staters stop coming the locals will have better hunting as game will over run things.