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SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is proposing fewer fish, fewer issues of Wyoming Wildlife magazine and fewer personnel to address increasing operation costs and an inability to raise license fees. The proposed cuts represent a 6.5 percent reduction to the fiscal year 2014 budget.
The department is meeting with the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission in Gillette today and Thursday to discuss several options for cutting the budget. The commission will take final action on the budget at its meeting July 8-10 in Saratoga.
“The game and fish mission is to manage wildlife and serve people,” said Warren Mischke, public information specialist for the Sheridan region. “The game and fish really wants to maintain our service to the people. We’re going to do everything we can throughout all these cuts to still maintain that, working with the public to try to meet the needs of the public with wildlife, as well as taking care of our wildlife.”
The department receives approximately 80 percent of its funding from license sales and other fees paid by hunters and anglers, with 5 to 6 percent of its revenue coming from the general fund, according to a press release from the department. The Wyoming Legislature approves license fee increases to match cost inflation. The most recent increase was in 2008.
“Because our license-fee increase proposals failed in the Legislature this year, we are proposing some significant cuts to next year’s budget, including cuts to programs and personnel,” Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott said in the release. “At the same time, we will continue to work with the Legislature, our partners and citizens from across the state to find an adequate source of funding for this agency.”
Proposed cuts statewide include a reduction in issues of Wyoming Wildlife magazine from 12 to six annually; eliminating the annual Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Expo, which takes place in Casper; and up to a 20 percent reduction in fish stocking in 2014.
In the Sheridan area, the proposed cuts will affect:
• Lake DeSmet fish stocking: 30,000 rainbow trout and 20,000 Yellowstone cutthroat trout will be eliminated from 2014 stocking numbers, representing one-third of the 150,000 fish usually stocked in Lake DeSmet. The fish scheduled for 2013 are already being raised in fisheries and will be stocked this summer. Since fingerling fish require time to grow to harvestable size, anglers will notice the 2014 reductions, in terms of reduced catch rate, in 2015 and 2016, Mischke said.
• The National Archery in the Schools program: This program will be cut immediately, Mischke said. However, the equipment purchased for area schools, including Sheridan Junior High School and Tongue River Middle School, will remain in their possession. The department will no longer be a part of the program, Mischke said, but he hopes schools will continue on their own.
• Personnel: As positions are left vacant through retirements, they will be frozen unless they are a priority position, Mischke said. Statewide, the reduction in personnel budget will total approximately $900,000, according to the press release.
Other programs considered for statewide reduction include: contributions to the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming; the department’s fund for access and conservation easements; funding for habitat and sensitive species projects; capital improvements to fish hatcheries and other department facilities; printing of the Access Atlas for sportsmen (this will still be available online); Wild Times publication for schoolchildren; reducing the department’s vehicle fleet, and reducing out-of-state travel, among others.
Proposed cuts for the Wyoming Game and Fish department’s fiscal year 2014 budget total $7,344,000.
Without additional revenue, the department will be forced to make additional cuts in fiscal year 2015.