By Richard Garrett, Jr.

Your voice for conservation at the Wyoming State Legislature

Wildlife management and habitat protection are hot topics

The 62nd session of the Wyoming State Legislature just began its (not quite) third week today. And as of the end of last week, there is good news to report.

This year, the Wyoming Outdoor Council is following and engaging in several bills, all of which have implications for our members.

In the course of the last several days, we’ve fought hard on legislation—sometimes for a given bill’s passage and sometimes against—to make sure the state’s lawmakers don’t compromise the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s mission.

With state income flattening, the legislative mood is to reduce costs, cut budgets, restrict programs, and establish legislative oversight in ways not seen in many years.

Should we mix politics with wildlife management?

One example of an attempt at increased legislative oversight is House Bill 78 (HB 78) that, as authored, would have inserted politics into wildlife management by the Game and Fish Department for the first time since 1936.

By working with the sponsor of the bill and others we were successful in amending the proposed legislation to require that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department submit its budget for legislative review—but not approval.

This is an important distinction. The bill, as originally written, would have required legislative approval of not only the Game and Fish Department’s budget but also that of the Department of Transportation and the University of Wyoming.

We still believe the bill reaches too far but absent its outright defeat, this compromise is a step back from the wrong direction.

Important wildlife habitat projects move forward

A bigger victory came on Friday, January 18, in the House Travel, Recreation, and Wildlife committee.

After a full week of intense advocacy and by once again working with a diverse group of other stakeholders, we won a hard-fought 6-3 vote to approve as written House Bill 81 (HB 81), which, if it wins final approval, will endorse 19 large projects, including 14 conservation easements, for the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust.

The conservation easements, all of which are within core sage-grouse habitat, are recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as important indicators that the state is working hard to protect the sage-grouse.

Here are some reasons that we offered to legislators to support the bill:

  • Habitat restoration/improvement projects and conservation easements play a key role in protecting Wyoming’s economy and our way of life.
  • Seven generations of the Wyoming Legislature have supported the Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (it was, in fact, the Wyoming Legislature that created the trust).
  • The conservation easements and projects included in this year’s bill were fully funded by the 2012 legislature.
  • There are 63 million acres in our state (about half of which is publicly owned land); aggregated, the easements included in House Bill 81 represent key habitat but would exist on less than half of one percent of the state’s total land mass.
  • By investing in the easements, the federal government has signaled its support for the state’s initiative for protecting habitat, which is critical for a variety of wildlife including mule deer, moose, and sage grouse.
  • Others have invested in easements too (most notably industry and land trusts).  This means that the state has leveraged its investment by an average ratio of about 6:1.

It will be important in the days to come to continue to support this bill as it journeys through the legislative process. Its next stop is in the Appropriations Committee, some members of which might try to revoke the funding mechanism that was passed in 2012.

Assuming it clears that hurdle, the bill will be heard by the full House. At that point it will be crucial for Wyoming Outdoor Council members to let their representative know how we feel about this bill.

Here is how you can locate your representative.

Game and Fish Department funding

This week will be a very important one for us, too. There are two bills in particular to which we direct your attention—House Bill 136 (HB 136) and House Bill 137 (HB 137). These bills, if approved, will provide the Wyoming Game and Fish Department with the authority its needs to insure it has the resources necessary to achieve its mission and obligation to effectively manage Wyoming’s wildlife.

Reception on Friday

Lastly,  on Friday, January 25 from 5-7 p.m. the Wyoming Outdoor Council board will host its annual legislative reception at the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne.

Everyone is welcome, so I hope readers will mark the date on their calendars and take advantage of this unique opportunity to meet, mingle, and talk with the Wyoming Outdoor Council board and with state legislators and decision makers.

As always, I want to thank our Outdoor Council members! Its my privilege to advocate on behalf of you and Wyoming’s environment at the State Legislature.

Contact: Richard Garrett, energy and legislative advocate, richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org

West Edge