CHEYENNE — Wyoming lawmakers will face a range of bills concerning hunting and fishing issues when they convene next month, including one that calls for increasing license fees.
The Legislature's Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee has endorsed a bill to increase most hunting and fishing licenses for residents and nonresidents.
Under the bill as written, resident deer tags would rise from $36 to $48. Resident elk tags would increase from $50 to $65. Nonresidents would see deer tags rise from $240 to $300, while elk tags would increase from $480 to $600. Many other licenses would see similar increases.
An analysis by the Legislative Service Office states that the increase would result in more than $2 million in additional revenue for various game and fish funds in fiscal year 2014, increasing to more than $8 million in fiscal year 2016.
Eric Keszler, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said Thursday that the department needs the extra revenue to maintain its current level of operations.
"If we're not able to get that, we're looking at something like a 20 percent cut in next year's budget," Keszler said. He said the department already is looking at an 8 percent cut in the current two-year state funding period.
Sen. Bruce Burns, co-chairman of the wildlife committee, said he's concerned about a provision of the bill that calls on the state Game Commission to tie annual changes in license fees to national rates of inflation or deflation tracked by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Burns, R-Sheridan, said Thursday he may try to split the price indexing off into a separate bill in case some lawmakers who favor increasing license fees oppose the automatic indexing. He said the game department needs more revenue to avoid the possibility of shortfalls starting in 2015.
The committee has endorsed another bill that would establish a raffle system for the sale of some trophy game and wild bison licenses.
Keszler said such raffle systems have worked well in other states to raise additional funds. "We see it as something that could potentially work in Wyoming as well," he said.
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, is sponsoring a bill that would allow hunters to take a cow bison every five years, up from the current state law limiting such licenses to once in a lifetime.
Gingery said Thursday that the Jackson Hole bison herd now stands at just over 900 animals, which is more than the 550 target set by biologists.
The current hunting regime isn't reducing the herd enough in part because the bison herd tends to stay on Grand Teton National Park, where hunting's not allowed, Gingery said. However, he said that when the herd does cross out of the park, many hunters want to use their once-in-a-lifetime permits to kill a bull, so the population of cows increases.
Gingery's bill also would reduce the license fee for nonresidents from $2,500 to $1,000. He said his hope is to attract more nonresident hunters.
"The overall objective is trying to find mechanisms to increase the number of people willing to come and hunt bison," he said.