Bad News for Bears: Panel Rips Grizzly Bear Funding Out of SF...

Bad News for Bears: Panel Rips Grizzly Bear Funding Out of SF 45

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A House committee Monday morning took a bite out of the only remaining good bill for Wyoming’s multi-billion dollar wildlife economy.

Not content with cratering the 10% license fee increase that was supported by the vast majority of Wyoming-based hunting organizations, Rep. Marti Halverson (R-Etna) proposed an amendment to strip a provision out of SF 45 that would have allowed the Game & Fish to use public funding to pay for Grizzly Bear Management. That sends a rather sour note to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service looking to delist grizzly bears. One of the key components to delisting, as most who pay any attention to the issue know, is an “adequate regulatory mechanism,” which SF 45 helped provide.

We suppose it’s not too much of a surprise, since the bill has been generally opposed by Bob Wharff and the Utah-based Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife and its associated organization, Big Game Forever: see: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865588426/Legislative-audit-State-wolf-contract-lacks-accountability-appropriate-safeguards.html?pg=all. Wharff & SFW were the same folks who helped lead us down a decade long path that kept wolves on the Endangered Species List well after their recovery goals were met.

That’s the kind of narrow thinking we’ve come to expect from Wharff & SFW. It is, however, not the kind of thinking that created one of the most transparent and honest Game and Fish Agencies in the nation.

Last year the Game and Fish spent $4.7 million on health insurance and nearly $2 million on grizzly bear management. Since the state took over management of the animals in 1984, Game & Fish Director Scott Talbott said, it has spent almost $35 million, mostly of license dollars paid by hunters & anglers.

Grizzlies are classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended delisting the animal. “The federal government isn’t always our enemy,” quipped Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan).

Talbott noted there were 170 bears in the Greater Yellowstone area in 1974 when the animal was listed as an endangered species. In the early ’90s, the population dropped to about 90. Under Game & Fish’s management, Talbott said, a conservative estimate of grizzly bears is now between 700 and 800.

We agree with the good Senator from Sheridan County. The Federal Government isn’t the bad guy here; it’s the people who are willing to tilt at windmills so they can build up their bank accounts (on both sides of the issue). SFW & Mr. Wharff have made a mint telling people they have the answer. The reality is this: their kind of snake oil only causes shortsightedness. There’s an old saying in the lobbying world: There’s no money to be made in solving a problem. SFW has that committed to heart.

By eliminating funding for Grizzly Bears, SFW is sure to beat it’s ample chest and claim it’s time to fight the feds on Ursus Arctos Horriblis.

But natives of Wyoming know this: When you get in a fight with a bear, you’ve already lost. It’s time Wyoming grow up and act like we understand how wildlife helps diversify our economy and insulates us from the booms and busts of our other economy: Energy.

Catherine Thagard of the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance, who testified in favor of the bill, said the panel’s 8-1 vote to use general fund money for the employees’ health insurance premiums “was absolutely a victory for the sportsmen and our Game & Fish resources.”

Asked if she was disappointed about losing the grizzly bear funding that was in the bill when the committee began discussing it at 8 a.m., Thagard said, “This is only the beginning of the conversation, and we understand it can take years. We’re here for the long haul.”

The committee heard positive testimony about the bill and discussed its merits for more than an hour and a half. A unique coalition representing conservation, environmentalists, sportsmen, business and agricultural groups all said Game & Fish needs the additional funds.

Kim Floyd of the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen told the committee before it acted on SF 45 that he felt like he was in the movie “Groundhog Day,” where the same scenario is played over and over.

“I’ve followed this discussion for the past year, through the summer, and we’re sitting essentially right where we were,” said Floyd, executive director of the Wyoming State AFL-CIO. “We didn’t get a funding increase last year for Game & Fish, and in the meantime you’ve asked them to cut programs, and cut they did. They cut access programs, they cut half [the budget] of the Wyoming Wildlife magazine, they cut habitat programs, they cut capital construction programs – that will hurt us in the future.

“There was a million fish not transplanted this year in our streams, lakes and rivers. Our expo program, our education program, is all gone,” he said.

In addition, Floyd said the department has more than 20 vacant positions that it has not filled. “We need to stop the bleeding at the Game & Fish,” he concluded.

Halverson took sharp exception to his claim that the Legislature forced the budget cuts after it rejected a proposed increase in hunting and fishing license fees last year. “We never asked Game & Fish to cut programs,” she maintained. “We asked them to streamline the agency. No one was more shocked than we were when the first cut was fish stocking.

Apparently Representative Halverson has never run a household budget. When you cut income, you have to cut things in your budget. The magic budget fairy doesn’t just show up and make everything better. It’s called economics, Representative Halverson, and we understand that Wyoming’s Junior Colleges as well as UW offer some excellent courses to help you through this kerfuffle.

While the bill ultimately passed out of committee, its fate is unclear. Those scowling faces in back rooms trying to force Game and Fish to sell off its programs are still trying to figure out how to kill a bill with this much support. Amending it and forcing it to a Conference Committee is the surest and easiest way to do that.

Members of the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance are championing an amendment that would restore Grizzly Bear funding which would put the bill right on Governor Mead’s desk.

The Governor has been friendly to the concept of restoring funding as evidenced in his State of the State address. Given the new political dynamic at the state House, maybe the dark days of politicians trying to undermine over 100 years of wildlife conservation are coming to an end.

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