CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Gov. Matt Mead is forming a task force to look at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and make any recommendations for changes on everything from funding to hunter recruitment.
Mead's plans so far are vague. He doesn't know who or how many members will be on the team and is leaving the topics up to the members.
“I'm going to be very careful to not say, `Here are the things you have to focus on,' because I'm going to have the experts there,” Mead said. “I want them to tell me, `Here are the things we ought to focus on.”'
Game and Fish has been plagued by funding problems since 2013, when the state Legislature denied the department's request to increase fishing and hunting license fees. The department's operations are largely paid for by fees collected from hunters and anglers, and it was the first time since 1937 that all increases were denied.
The decision meant Game and Fish had to start cutting programs and staffing.
On the chopping block went youth education programs, such as the annual Wyoming Hunting & Fishing Heritage Expo, adult classes and maintenance to Game and Fish buildings, from fish hatcheries to regional offices, said director Scott Talbott.
“Our financial situation is stable, but realize we have reduced several programs fairly significantly,” Talbott told the Casper Star-Tribune. “I think that (the task force) clearly demonstrates the vision that the governor has for the state of Wyoming and the value of wildlife.”
Talbott did not know what role Game and Fish would play on the task force, but officials would certainly be involved in providing information and support.
What is commonly referred to as the North American Model of Wildlife Management, where hunters and anglers pay for the bulk of management, needs to be augmented, said Steve Kilpatrick, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.
The opinion of some is that Wyoming has too few hunters and anglers to carry the burden alone.
“How do we involve, engage, tap, the photographers and sightseers and wildlife viewers?” Kilpatrick said. “They want to help, but there is really not a structured mechanism for them to help pay for the wildlife resource.”
This task force could be a way to arrive at some kind of solution, he said.
He hopes the group is made of varying interests from wildlife advocates to representatives from energy, agriculture and tourism. A solution from a group that diverse could carry more weight when it arrives on the footsteps of the Capitol next year, Kilpatrick said.
“There is a whole host of things out there to potentially find additional revenue from. That's what I hope the task force does,” he said. “I'm a grandfather of some really young grandkids, and I hope they get to see and do what I've gotten to do.”
Mead said he will identify members of the task force by the end of the current legislative session. He hopes to have a plan from the group by next year's budget session.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com