Bait and Switch

  • When bureaucrats, union leaders and environmentalists get together, grab your wallet and run for the hills.

With stagnating hunting and fishing license fee revenues, Wyoming’s Game and Fish department (G&F) is hunting around for ways to offload its escalating costs to the general taxpayer. A bill, SF45, passed during Wyoming’s recently completed 2014 budget session that will allow the department to offload approximately $5 million in health insurance and $2 million grizzly bear management costs from its Commission budget, funded primarily by hunting and fishing license fees, to the general fund, funded by the general taxpayer.

Shifting costs from a budget linked to a limited source of funds attached to the population the department is supposed to serve, to one often treated as black hole for department spending wish lists, will encourage continued cost escalation at G&F.

A quick look at the department’s wolf management cost explosion will provide some insight into the likely trajectory of spending on grizzly bear management.

Wolves could have been delisted 2002, but legal challenges from environmentalist groups delayed delisting until 2012. Since then, the federal government left Wyoming’s G&F to monitor wolves. G&F manages wolves, however, only within the wolf trophy game management area, an area in the northwest corner of Wyoming, just outside of Yellowstone National Park. To kill wolves in that area, hunters need a license. In 2012, G&F sold 4,492 wolf licenses, 4,294 to residents and 198 to non residents, generating about $190,000 fee revenue. Scott Talbot, director at G&F said he expects that revenue to fall.

It cost G&F $475,356 to manage wolves during the 2009-10 biennium, $740,675 in the 2011-12 biennium, and $608,099 during the 2013-14 biennium. The cost dropped because, according to the G&F 2015-16 general fund budget request, the effort was not adequately funded. The department requested $1,470,000 to manage wolves in the 2015-16 biennium, a 142 percent increase over 2013-14. This represents largest spending spike in the G&F general fund budget.

Given that G&F only manages wolves in a small part of the state, and the federal government is mostly out of the picture, why have costs escalated so dramatically?

G&F took on a “conservation” role when its mandate crept 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.

G&F, supported by the AFL-CIO, the Nature Conservancy, Wyoming Wildlife Heritage Foundation and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, use the threat of relisting to manipulate legislators into supporting increased funds for conservation. According to the G&F 2015-16 budget narrative, “[w]ithout the requested increase, Wyoming risks having inadequate capabilities for monitoring and managing the wolf population, which could jeopardize wolf delisting and state management authority and impact the public if damage handling and compensation budgets were insufficient.”

However, according to the G&F 2013 annual report, by the end of 2012, the year wolves were taken off the endangered species list, at least 277 wolves including approximately 21 breeding pairs lived in Wyoming. To maintain delisting, the federal government requires 100 wolves making up 10 breeding pairs across Wyoming and 50 wolves and five breeding pairs in Yellowstone National Park. Given that G&F has a wolf harvest strategy to keep the population under control, it would seem relisting is unlikely.   

At the moment, grizzly bears are listed as endangered species, but that could end as early as summer 2014. Scott Talbot said there are about 780 grizzlies in the state. To be delisted, the state needs 500 bears. In fact, in a situation ominously reminiscent of wolf delisting, Wyoming has had enough grizzlies for delisting since 2003 but because of lawsuits brought by environmentalist groups, delisting has been held up.

According to Talbot, G&F has spent $35 million on grizzly bear management since 1984.  What will happen with grizzlies are delisted? Management costs will likely skyrocket.

G&F wants to spend almost $1.5 mm to generate less than $190,000 in wolf license fee revenue. Only in government can a group spend so much to earn so little and continue, year after year, to do the same. The last thing the legislature should do is reward wasteful spending by creating yet another general fund program that requires an unlimited source of funds. G&F must manage its programs within the ability of hunters to pay or the legislature must cap its spending.

Instead of bowing to fear tactics, it is time to reel in spending at G&F. 

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2 Responses to Bait and Switch

  1. Maureen Bader says:

    Cathy Selby sent Maureen Bader the following email: Ms. Bader,

    My husband Randy and I read with great interest, your guest column in the March 20th issue of the Powell Tribune.

    We have been frustrated for years in the massive amount of money spent on wolves and grizzlies to the detriment of our ungulate herds. There are many other concerns we have with the Game and Fish, such as it seems to be more people control than animal conservation, to the point that the wildlife they are charge with conserving are low on the list of priorities, 4th or lower.

    That said, we wanted to share with you a recent letter we had published in the Powell Tribune, with a follow up letter that was published last week:

    What would you think if you watched a helicopter flying about 600 yards from your house, very close to the ground, even right over the top of the house across from you so that the snow blew off of the house [trespassing mere feet over private property and buildings] and saw that this helicopter was herding and RUNNING a herd of elk? You’d probably do as we did and call the Game and Fish. And Alan Osterland tried to justify their actions.

    How do you justify, even in the name of “science”, stressing and running these elk? This was after -20 and below zero weather, so they are already stressed. All wildlife is stressed in this weather. The elk’s sides were heaving and tongues hanging out. The excuse? They need to count them. Really?

    I grew up on a ranch. We counted cows all of the time, determining how many cows and calves were in the herds of hundreds, without a helicopter and definitely without running them. We got accurate counts, the critters weren’t stressed. Okay, these aren’t domesticated cows. But they have a helicopter that can hover over the elk at quite a height, much less stressful for the elk, and by using powerful optics could count the elk. Can’t tell for sure which are cows, calves and bulls? Take photos and analyze them in the office. But for goodness sake, don’t RUN and STRESS the elk.

    Can you imagine what would happen if I owned a helicopter and flew over elk, started herding them and running them for not just a few minutes for but for long enough to make their tongues hang out? I’d be arrested, the helicopter confiscated and I’d be fined, possibly jailed. The Wyoming statues say it is not okay for you or me to do this, but it is okay for the G & F to do it. All in the name of science. Expensive science by the way, from a budgetarily constrained department, to count elk. How many of these elk will not have the reserve energy to fight the cold or have the reserve and stamina to flee predators?

    Alan Osterland told me I don’t understand the need for this as I don’t have a degree in Wildlife Management. How arrogant. I don’t want one if it means that I have to lose common sense. Alan commented he know I didn’t have respect for the department. This episode today is one of many reasons. Want respect for your department Alan? EARN IT!

    ….
    Thank you Cathy for your email.

    Maureen Bader

  2. Maureen Bader says:

    Ms. Selby provided WyLiberty with another letter to the Powell Tribune editor:

    In response to a Mr. Le Blanc of CA who seemed to think that whatever G & F did it had to be right, even to the point of the number of lives lost in helicopter crashes in the west, I penned the following response and dropped it off at their office. It was published last Wednesday.

    3-10-14
    To the Editor:
    In response to Mr. Le Blanc from CA:
    We have talked to Scott Talbot, the head of the WY Game and Fish. After hearing what went on with the helicopter flying over private property, buzzing a private residence, running elk to the point of exhaustion, towards and then through a barbed wire fence, all in the name of science, he had to agree that the performance of the department’s employees was unacceptable. He also realizes that if there had been a horse back or mule back rider on the opposite side of one of the ridges they were flying so low over, there could have been horrific consequences for human and animal and the G & F would be liable.
    Mr. Le Blanc indicated that the ends justify the means and goes on to site the death rate in the western US from helicopter accidents in the field of wildlife. He seems to think the loss of even one human life is totally acceptable in the pursuit of “science”. I don’t agree and I am sure that the families of those lost won’t agree, either.
    As for results: in the last few years just in elk hunt areas 55 and 56 there have been over 4000 elk licenses pulled because of the poor elk numbers. And the department runs on license revenue. Chasing the elk to the point of exhaustion anytime, but especially during a very stressful weather event, then and later, will only reduce those low numbers further.
    Another point Scott Talbot agrees with us on is that the G & F is no different from others in that they are not allowed to “invade” private property any more than any other trespasser is. Not even in the name of science. There is plenty of public land to study the wildlife from.
    So, Mr. Le Blanc, since you don’t live here, you didn’t see the situation, nor have you witnessed, as we have, the steady decline in big game herds in this area due to mismanagement of wildlife, whether it be wolves, bears, elk, moose, sheep or any other, as we have, your comments are not valid.

    Sincerely,

    Cathy Selby

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