Non-game wildlife funding needed in Wyoming

Non-game decal

Many states have fund-raising programs to support non-game wildlife.

Published Feb. 10, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Game and Fish needs our help.”

2014 Update: Requests for increased funding for Wyoming Game and Fish Department were not passed in 2013, are being sought again in 2014.

By Barb Gorges

It’s easy to support the work the Wyoming Game and Fish Department does. Just buy a hunting license. Or show up at the Capitol during the state legislative session to testify on the merits of license fee increases.

The department gets 80 percent of its funding from license fees, but it is the Legislature that has to approve any fee changes every six or seven years. By this session, the fees approved in 2007 had 20 percent less buying power, thanks to inflation, but the legislation did not pass.

Yet, there are more expenses. There are more people coming to work here who need education on Wyoming wildlife laws. And there’s more baseline data collection and monitoring work to be done in the face of more energy development.

Surprisingly at the committee meeting Feb. 1 to hear testimony on the second bill proposing increasing hunting fees, there was a lobbyist for a minor sportsman’s group opposed. His board members begrudge having to pay more to hunt, even when it is apparent that the cost of everyday agency work gets more expensive.

In my testimony, I mentioned that my husband and I hunt and fish, we enjoy nongame wildlife, and we made an investment to support the Game and Fish by buying lifetime fishing licenses for our family. Later, the lobbyist told me we birdwatchers ought to be paying something, too.

He is right. There are more people in Wyoming enjoying looking at nongame wildlife, including birds in their backyards, than are hunting it. We are indirectly benefitting from the 6 percent of hunting license fees spent on nongame species work.

However, grants and legislative funding cover most of the $9.5 million (14.5 percent of the total Game and Fish budget) spent on nongame species: programs to prevent aquatic invasive species invading; programs to prevent “sensitive species” from requiring listing as threatened or endangered; programs for wolves and sage-grouse; and work on brucellosis and chronic wasting disease.

There is also one biologist who tracks all the bird species not hunted.

How can a non-hunter support Game and Fish?

First, we need better terminology. Rather than “non-hunter,” say “wildlife watcher.” Rather than “nongame,” I like “watchable wildlife,” a term the department already uses, even if it does seem to include the huntable megafauna.

Some states sell special vehicle license plates to support wildlife. That was suggested here a few years ago, but apparently, the University of Wyoming is going to be the only entity with the sacred right to raise funds that way.

Some states have a check-off on their income tax forms to give people an easy option to contribute a few dollars, but it will be decades before any Wyoming legislator wants to prematurely end her career by suggesting instituting state income tax.

Colorado uses the majority of its lottery income to support its wildlife programs. Wyoming considers legislation to join one of the national lotteries every year. If it ever passes, could funds be earmarked for wildlife?

In other places, a special license allows a person access to special state land. With so much federal land available for recreation, that probably wouldn’t work in Wyoming, either.

The federal government once proposed a minor tax on outdoor gear that would be shared with states, but the gear companies nixed that.

Game and Fish does have a nice selection of items available in their gift shop here in Cheyenne and online, but seriously, who needs another mug or T-shirt if you already belong to one wildlife organization or another?

What we really need is a voluntary wildlife watching license: Something on the order of $25 per family, with the option of contributing more and being listed in the back of Wyoming Wildlife magazine, as supporters of other organizations are in their publications.

Besides being listed in the magazine, one’s support could be shown with a small sticker on the car window, maybe pasted right next to the annual state parks entrance pass. We could charge visitors non-resident fees if they also wanted a wildlife watching license.

And then, as sometimes happens, maybe third parties would offer perks for license holders—perhaps a discount from local purveyors of outdoor gear. Or maybe each year license holders would be put in a drawing for a pair of super-duper binoculars or a spotting scope.

But really, for some of us, just knowing we are contributing to the well-being of all the wildlife in Wyoming—and there are a lot more kinds of critters out there than the ones sportsmen hunt—would be worth it.

If you have any other ideas, please contact Wyoming Game and Fish Department Deputy Director John Emmerich, 777-4501.