JACKSON, Wyo. - People from Wyoming are pondering over a big question: How can they fix the budget for the state's Game and Fish Department?
Lawmakers, department officials and the public met Tuesday to come up with solutions. That's why people came to the Travel Recreation Wildlife and Cultural Resources joint legislative committee meeting in Teton Village.
"We can watch wolves and crane and bison -- and badgers!" said wildlife enthusiast Lisa Robertson.
"Hunters, anglers, trappers, all pay for wildlife management," said sportsman Robert Wharff.
State Sen. Leland Christensen said people from all over the state attended the meeting – some "so they can express their support -- and others their concerns about the model of how we're funding game and fish and what our needs are, going forward."
And there are plenty of needs. Department leaders say the responsibilities of game and fish have increased a lot in the past several years.
"(The budget) is controlled, due in large part to the resources that are available to the department. At this point in time, the public policy decision is, is that the public wants a smaller Game and Fish department," said Chief Game Warden Brian Nesvik.
Nesvik said Game and Fish has already cut roughly $6 million from its $71.5 million budget, but it's still not enough.
Here are some ideas on the budget that came up in the meeting:
- Cutting back on programs
- Adding education programs
- Increase licensing fees for hunters. (This was already voted down during the last legislative session.)
"I think as we raise our fees, we reach that tipping point -- it's out there somewhere -- where we actually start losing hunters," said Christensen.
Not all hunters would mind, though. Wharff said he would be willing to pay a higher licensing fee.
Even nonhunters would be willing to pitch in.
"Private dollars! If we have a seat at the table, you bet we're gonna pay to have it," said Robertson.
The interim committee has another meeting tentatively planned for Oct. 21 and 22 in Kemmerer.