Fewer fish will be stocked, hunting and fishing accesses purchased and habitat projects organized, after the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved millions of dollars of cuts to the Game and Fish Department's 2014 budget Tuesday in Saratoga.
Bird farms, Wyoming Wildlife magazine and feed ground programs could also be on the chopping block if the department does not see more money during the next several years.
Nearly a dozen sportsmen, sportswomen and business owners spoke to the commission about their concerns over the cuts. Most lamented the future economic impact of less fish and wildlife.
“We understand fiscally times are difficult, but slashing the budget would be a huge detriment to the town,” said Judd Campbell, co-owner of the historic Hotel Wolf in Saratoga.
The department faced a $4.6 million shortfall after the Wyoming State Legislature did not approve license fee increases this year. Game and Fish receives about 80 percent of its budget from license fees and federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.
Wyoming’s fish and wildlife bring more than a billion dollars to the state each year in tourism, said Neil Thagard, the western outreach director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
The Cowboy State is a sportsman’s paradise, and the fish and wildlife aren’t here by accident, he said as he presented the commission with $10,000 from the conservation partnership for the department's access program.
“Our elected officials have failed us,” he said. “They have failed the department. … They have failed sportsmen. They have failed business owners.”
Cuts to fish and wildlife are ultimately counterproductive, said Matthew Copeland, public lands organizer with the National Wildlife Federation. Threats to programs such as sportsmen recruitment, habitat and access are threats to the future economic health of Wyoming.
He mentioned the Platte Valley Habitat Partnership as an example of the department working with the public for the future of wildlife. The commission had previously approved $500,000 for habitat projects in the Platte Valley to help a dwindling mule deer population.
Commission members briefly discussed the future of the $500,000 in light of the new budget cuts. They ultimately approved the money, but local Saratoga residents, business people and sportsmen were still worried.
KayCee Alameda, executive director of the Saratoga community group Voices of the Valley, said the Platte Valley Partnership’s habitat projects will benefit wildlife and ultimately the economy.
Limiting Game and Fish money for projects also limits nonprofit support. The Mule Deer Foundation announced it was willing to commit $50,000 to habitat projects in the area during the next several years, but it will have to raise the money -- a task that is easier when an agency such as Game and Fish is already committed, said Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the foundation.
With another $1.5 million in budget cuts, the department can operate through 2016. If more money isn’t raised, it will look at additional cuts to the agency.
In light of the approved and pending trims, Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Star Valley, said she may consider raising license fees for 2017. Halverson is a member of the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee and voted against the higher licensing fees in the past legislative session.
“We can continue to pare the department down, and I think in some ways it's good,” said Game and Fish Commissioner Charles Price. “I think we have found efficiencies, but we can’t continue forever.”
The commission will continue discussing proposals for more budget cuts at its meetings in September and November.