GILLETTE, Wyo. — Possible cuts in fish stocking, habitat programs and public access may only be the start for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s future budgets.
If the department doesn’t see more money by 2015, whole programs may be gone, officials say.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission heard Wednesday a preliminary 2014 budget that includes $7 million in cuts to dozens of areas including fish and wildlife research, vehicles, vacant positions and building improvement projects.
“This is a fairly basic budget renovation where we get the low-hanging fruit that doesn’t cost jobs,” new Commission President Michael Healy said.
If money increases in the future, some of the items cut may come back, he said.
The next round of cuts in 2015 could include programs like fish hatcheries or bird farms. They will be painful cuts, but they are part of a necessary period of examination of what is important and still needed by the department and the public, he said.
Most of Game and Fish’s budget comes from license fees, which were last increased in 2008, and federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. Officials said they needed license fee increases to continue existing services. The Wyoming Legislature voted against fee increases this year.
If no more money comes in by 2014, the department will need to cut at least $3 million from the 2015 budget, said John Kennedy, deputy director of Game and Fish.
Most of the increase in the Game and Fish Department’s budget from 2008 has been in employee health care and inflation, Deputy Director John Emmerich said.
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The department is also facing an almost $3 million increase in costs of three programs for 2014: feeding grounds, damage claims and payments to the state’s general fund for shared services — such as those of the state auditor.
“A lot of these costs are out of our control,” Commissioner Aaron Clark said. “We can’t do anything about them.”
State Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, told the commission he believes the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee did not pass license fee increases because most legislators were new to the committee and did not understand how the department operates. It looked as though department officials were asking for more money at a time when all other departments were cutting their budgets.
“I don’t think they were cognizant of the fact that frankly (Game and Fish) had been doing that since 2008,” Burns said.
Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Star Valley, on the other hand, thinks the cuts are long overdue. Game and Fish, like other state agencies, has fat it can cut, she said.
A member of the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife committee, she voted down the license fee increases because of the “200 emails” she received each day from constituents, she said.
“Whenever an agency starts to cut, their priorities are revealed,” she said. “I can’t wait to see their priorities.”
Commissioners will vote today to preliminarily approve the budget cuts for 2014. Members will formally approve the budget in July.