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In the March issue of Field & Stream magazine, there’s an article entitled “Storm Warnings.” The subheading states, “American fish and wildlife management, once the envy of the world for its funding and accomplishments, is going broke.”

Basically, state wildlife management agencies are running out of money. The lack of adequate funding will adversely affect the management of our fish and wildlife.

Approximately two-thirds of the nation’s fish and game agencies are either in financial crisis or fast approaching it. The agencies have had to cut back on staff, facilities and some management programs. Sometimes the work that the personnel are doing is unrelated to wildlife.

The rub is that most agencies rely heavily on hunting and fishing license sales for funding. The figure is roughly 70 percent. The bind is that the number of fishermen and hunters is declining. The general public does not contribute any significant amount for the management of our wildlife resources.

Kentucky has documented that the number of license holders has declined 1.4 percent per year for the last 10 years. That is a loss of 14 percent and the downward trend is expected to continue. Fewer license buyers mean less money. Kentucky will go from $27 million in 2000 to $13 million by 2005.

One problem that the management agencies are confronted with is that money is increasingly being used to fund nongame or endangered species programs at the expense of traditional fish and wildlife operations. Most states do not fund the wildlife management agencies, nor does the federal government do much to help out with nongame and endangered species.

Meanwhile, the facilities the sporting public has come to expect are deteriorating. Money that was spent on boat ramps, parks, roads, fish hatcheries and land acquisitions have been curtailed.

Pennsylvania has dropped all of its land acquisition plans. They went from 3 million acres to zero.

Many state wildlife management agencies have gone to charging exorbitant nonresident license fees. This is a real source of irritation, especially for nonresidents hunting in Western states like Wyoming and Montana.

With so much federal land that the nonresidents pay taxes on, just as the residents do, the nonresidents feel put upon. In Wyoming and Montana, the difference between what the resident sportsman pays for a license and a nonresident pays may be a factor of anywhere from four to 10 times.

In Wyoming and Montana, about 70 percent of the management agencies’ income is derived from license sales, 70 percent of which comes from nonresidents.

Sooner or later the nonresident license price will be too high and they will stop coming.

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Though the businesses associated with fishing and hunting contribute billions to the states’ economies, states do little to help out the agencies.

Resident sportsmen rarely ever pay an adequate amount for their licenses. A Wyoming resident fishing license costs $15. This entitles a license holder to fish for the calendar year. Consider that it costs $50 to ski for a day or $30 to golf for a half day. That $15 license is a real bargain.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study found that industries based on fish and wildlife contribute more than $5 billion in tax revenue to the states, but the reinvestment of that revenue into the agencies is less than 10 percent. (Wyoming Game & Fish receives no money from the Legislature).

A final quote from the Field & Stream article points to the gravity of the situation: “The lack of investment has now placed the whole system at risk. Letting this happen makes no sense, environmentally or economically.”

In Wyoming, one bill that would help the situation and is being considered by the Wyoming Legislature is the Wildlife Legacy Trust. It would set aside trust fund money allowing the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to continue its mission of managing all wildlife resources in the state. Bob Krumm, of Sheridan, is the Wyoming outdoor correspondent for The Billings Gazette. Contact him at rkrumm@fiberpipe.net.

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