Wyoming Liberty Group

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How to Stop the Fishy Spending Spiral

  • Time to add some drag to the line

The Game and Fish (G&F) department provides us with a cautionary tale about what happens when an agency’s mandate creeps from “the protection, propagation, preservation and distribution of Game animals, birds and fish of this State,” to “conserving wildlife—serving people,” which could mean pretty much anything—and it does. The G&F department hasn’t seen a mandate it can’t assume, or a cost it can’t increase. How do we reel in spending at G&F?

During a House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee meeting in February 2014, Wyoming Senator Bruce Burns highlighted the obvious—the reason G&F does what it does is because legislation makes it so. 

Within the obvious we find the answer to our original question: to reel in spending at G&F, legislators  must amend the legislation under which G&F operates. By showing political will, legislators can control mandate creep, bring spending under control and  lift a great burden off family budgets and over-regulated residents. 

G&F is governed by Wyoming Statute Title 23. That legislation lays out, among other things, G&F powers and duties. For example in 23-1-302, G&F is empowered to “acquire lands and waters in the name of Wyoming by purchase, lease, agreement, gift or devise, not including powers of eminent domain, and to develop improve operate and maintain … fish hatcheries, rearing ponds, game farms, and bird farms.” In other words, the legislature gave G&F the job of raising fish and birds.

By repealing this language, the legislature would take G&F out of the hatchery and bird farm business. It would also create the added bonus of eliminating the possibility of, among other things, G&F’s mandate from creeping off the National Elk Refuge into state elk farms.

Why would this be a good idea? When government engages in activities normally provided by the private sector, it almost invariably costs more because government has no incentive to keep costs low.

G&F currently manages six fish hatcheries and four rearing stations. According to G&F 2013 annual report, “In FY 13, a total of 467,241 pounds of trout, kokanee, and grayling were stocked from 10 Wyoming facilities.” The cost to manage these hatcheries and rearing stations that year was $5.2 million.

Unlike any other state in the nation, taxpayers and sportsmen fund 40 free (to the employee) houses for wardens at these stations. If G&F were to privatize the hatcheries and rearing stations, it would also save the cost of the so-called free housing, not to mention about $120,000 per year for the cost of utilities at these houses, according to G&F estimates.

Bird farms are another example of a costly government program that should be left to the private sector. G&F releases 25,000 pheasants per year and with a 2013 annual budget of $698,504. That is $27.94 per bird.

At MacFarlane Pheasants Inc. of Wisconsin, the cost of an extra large Ringneck pheasant, when you buy more than 50, is $2.50 each. But wait! The company gives bulk discounts. If savvy G&F shoppers would purchase 7,000 during the season, the per chick price would drop to $1.39. At 25,000, the per chick price would likely be lower. Talk about super savings!

But no. Wyoming hunters pay much, much more, for the privilege of hunting birds raised by bureaucrats—and if bureaucrats, union leaders, environmentalists and free-spending legislators have their way, the Wyoming families may soon in the crosshairs of even more unnecessary spending at G&F.

Guidance to government agencies starts with our elected officials and until our elected officials pause to consider the consequences of their giveaways, hunters, anglers and taxpayers will continue to see costs escalate. It is time for our legislature to limit mandates and to reel in the spending spiral at G&F.

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