- 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.