Bill would give residents better shot at coveted hunting tags

Bill would give residents better shot at coveted hunting tags

A proposal sailing through the statehouse would boost the percentage of moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison and grizzly bear hunting licenses that go to Wyoming residents.

House Bill 43-Trophy game, big game and wild bison license allocations would cut back on non-resident opportunities to pursue the aforementioned species, making only 10% of all tags available to out-of-state folks. That leaves the 90% to residents, who would see a slight bump in their lottery odds of pulling a tag. Because moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison hunting is relatively limited (and modern grizzly bear hunting is yet to occur), the changes afoot aren’t monumental; residents would still face long odds to pull a tag if HB 43 becomes law.

“They go from really, really bad, to just really bad,” Joe Schaffer, a member of the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce, said about those odds while testingifying in support of the bill.

The 18-member taskforce Schaffer sits on shaped the bill. The WWT, a mix of hunters, landowners, Wyoming Game and Fish Department representatives and lawmakers, was created with the aim of guiding policy relating to hunting opportunity and sportsperson access. Along with the Wyoming Legislature, the group is conveying recommendations to the Game and Fish Commission and Gov. Mark Gordon.

The plan to designate 90% of “big five” species licenses to residents and 10% to non-residents — which all 18 members support — was low-hanging fruit. So was making licenses for bull moose and ram bighorn sheep a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — a provision also included in HB 43.

But the legislation may also be the precursor for changes to how Wyoming issues hunting licenses for the more commonly pursued big game species: elk, deer and pronghorn.

Bigger changes coming?

“I think it is a catalyst for the taskforce continuing to work on some very, very difficult issues: landowner allocations, 90/10 for elk, deer and antelope, outfitter set-asides,” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said. “All of these issues are swirling out there.”

Hicks, an avid big game hunter and taskforce member, has repeatedly run legislation that proposed the 90/10 license structure for various big game and trophy game species, sponsoring bills as long as a decade ago. They all failed, but out of the ashes the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce emerged.

Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is hopeful that changes to bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat and bison hunting licenses currently being considered by the Legislature could help trigger a discussion about modifying the state’s system for distributing elk, deer and pronghorn licenses. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

The Baggs senator is hopeful new-to-Wyoming license structures, like transferable outfitters or landowner tags, could sweeten the pot for stakeholders that have the most to lose from a 90/10 split. Potentially, he said, that type of carve-out license could make outfitters and guides more amenable to reducing the percentage of tags that go to non-residents — their primary clientele.

As it is, the outfitting lobby is staunchly opposed to reducing numbers of elk, deer and pronghorn licenses that non-residents can draw. Over the last two decades non-residents have received about 16% of the total number of elk, deer, and antelope licenses issued. Reducing that rate to 10% could cause economic “devastation” for the commercial hunting industry, said Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association President Sy Gilliland.

“That’s why we are so willing to put our sword in the sand, and say we move no more,” Gilliland said. “We moved on the 90/10 on the “big five,” but we move no more.”

Broader, fundamental changes to how Wyoming issues hunting licenses to landowners and outfitters haven’t yet really hit the table, Gilliland said. But they’re about to, he added, and they were identified as high priorities at the onset of the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce’s 18-month process, which runs through this summer. The group meets next March 22-23 in Casper and April 28 in Pinedale.

Gilliland agreed with Hicks on the point that outfitters may be willing to forfeit more non-resident licenses if it came in conjunction with a new system of distributing tags to landowners or guides.

“He’s not wrong,” he said. “I think it’s time to have these discussions.”

Staying true

Meantime, the Legislature is pushing along a couple of recommendations to emerge from the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce. One was to fully fund the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust Fund, contributing no less than $85 million to its corpus. Lawmakers incorporated that recommendation into the original version of the Legislature’s budget bill, adding $75 million to the trust’s corpus and another $10 million that would be appropriate specifically for wildlife crossings and game fences.

The other recommendation — now HB 43 — has largely stayed intact since leaving the taskforce, though Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) did offer an amendment to phase in the changes, giving residents 5% more of the license allocation annually until 90% was achieved.

“In full honesty, I have got a moose outfitter in my area that’s really dependent on this,” Sommers said in the chamber. “I just think it’s an easier way to break them in, [over] a period of time. Having served on the wildlife taskforce — to also be straight up with you — we never talked about this.”

Departing from the collaborative group’s proposal didn’t go over well in the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee.

At Sen. Mike Gierau’s (D-Jackson) suggestion, Sommers’ amendment was excised unanimously.

“The fact that you all came together had a profound effect on me,” Gierau said, “and I’m ready to vote on this bill the way you all put it together.”

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