Stung by budget cuts, Game and Fish welcomes plan to increase license fees

Oct 23, 2013 By Trevor Brown, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

A proposal to hike Wyoming's hunting and fishing fees has cleared its first hurdle.

Lawmakers voted Tuesday to support legislation that would raise nearly all resident and non-resident license fees by about 10 percent.

The decision means the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee will sponsor the plan for the upcoming 2014 budget session.

The measure is expected to generate about $3.5 million a year and help prevent further cuts to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which has seen sharp funding cuts in the past two years.

Sen. Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, said he supports the hikes because he fears the damage that would be caused if the agency has to slash its programs more than it already has.

"We have already cut a lot of programs, and if they have to cut more, people will notice it," he said. "I think hunters and anglers are even already noticing the cuts."

One proposed cut is the elimination of the popular Wyoming Wildlife magazine.

Game and Fish gets about 80 percent of its funding from the fees.

The levies have not changed since 2008. Meanwhile, agency expenses have increased due to inflation and the addition of legislatively mandated programs.

In response to a budget shortfall, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted in July to cut $4.6 million -- or about 6.5 percent of the budget -- for fiscal year 2014.

This was on top of a $2 million reduction put in place last year.

The cuts have caused the agency to freeze positions, slash overtime and reduce funding for access easements, land acquisitions, fish stocking services, hatcheries and other programs.

State officials say the two rounds of cuts should be enough to keep the department adequately funded for the next couple of years. But Game and Fish needs to find more money or will have to make deeper cuts after that.

Steve Kilpatrick is the executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. He said many sportsmen, wildlife and conservation groups spoke in favor of the increases during Tuesday's meeting in Diamondville.

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