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GUEST COLUMN: Sportsman group opposed to proposed hunting, fishing license fee hikes

Posted: Friday, Nov 16th, 2012

Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife proclaims that our members have expressed strong opposition to the proposed license fee increases, and that they are desirous of looking first for cost cutting measures and increasing program efficiencies, where appropriate, throughout the Wyoming Game & Fish Department.

Furthermore, our members are desirous that Wyoming move cautiously as we explore increasing license fees as they remain concerned over what they are observing in other western states, primarily in Idaho and Montana, which increased license fees in 2009 and are now having difficulty selling significant portions of their allocated non-resident big game licenses.

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife desires at this time to reiterate that we did support the license fee increases in 2007; however, we stated at that time our members were concerned about the increasing cost of hunting licenses, especially non-resident fees. It remains one of our biggest concerns that we are considering raising license fees during tough economic times, when a very real potential exists that these license fees will discourage hunters and anglers from participation, perhaps to the point that they develop other outdoor interests and activities which can be more economically achieved and will no longer contribute to wildlife management efforts.

We understand how dependent we are upon non-resident hunters and anglers for funding of the game and fish department. And our members fully understand the consequences of losing this critical funding base — we believe that, currently, the risks are too high with our struggling economy.

We further suggest it is more important to explore new partnerships designed to help cut operational costs of the game and fish, while maintaining current hunting, fishing and trapping programs. It remains our belief that increasing license fees has too great of a potential to negatively impact future license sales, and will most likely discourage the enrollment of new hunters into our ranks.

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife expresses our concern that this will hamper future hunting and angling recruitment and retention efforts, and also runs counter to the directive of the game and fish — “Protect the Wildlife, Serve the People.”

We also believe other issues have not been adequately addressed. All discussions have primarily focused simply on the need for increased license fees, and not enough time or thought has been devoted to actually understanding the problems the game and fish department faces. Furthermore, we openly declare that the proposed license fee increases do not address the three main issues identified by the game and fish as causes for such action: increased healthcare costs; increased fuel costs; and inflation.

Our group contends that an increase in license fees is synonymous to a tax increase, albeit on a very limited class of people. We are resolved to oppose any increase during these tough economic times, and prefer that more be done to look at improving or leveraging cost cutting efforts.

Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife supports and is dedicated to assisting the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in efforts to increase funding via new programs, such as the proposed “super raffle.” Furthermore, we support the exploration of new programs that can be implemented within the game and fish that can increase efficiencies of existing programs without increasing costs, and perhaps even reduce the costs, of those programs.

We also want to raise the question of the intent of state statutes that obligate the game and fish to manage all wildlife within the state, and ask the Joint TRW Committee and other state legislators to clarify the priorities used in determining how to best utilize and protect sportsmen’s interests and investments in wildlife conservation efforts, which will result in sustained and historic uses of those wildlife resources.

Furthermore, we request that a special task force be created, comprised of Wyoming hunters and anglers — the historic users and primary funding source for the game and fish department — TRW committee members, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, to explore more in-depth the problems that are causing the budget shortfalls. Furthermore, this task force could explore partnerships that would cut current costs or more efficiently produce the desired outcomes, thus enabling the game and fish to fully achieve their directive.

Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife recognizes that this will force the game and fish’s budget to be discussed during a budget session, and that it will require a 2/3 majority for any non-budget bill to pass; however, we believe that is probably more appropriate, given the subject matter.

We ask that our members, and all others who support our position, contact their respective Wyoming legislators, as the comment period for the proposed fee increases has now closed. Non-resident hunters who agree with our position can contact us via email; we will pass along your support of our position to our state legislators.

Robert A. Wharff can be reached via email at rwharff@wildblue.net.

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