Wyoming Legislative News

It has been a busy start to the 2017 legislative session with a number of wildlife, public lands and Game and Fish related bills. (Click here for bills information and status).

Killed! – Public Lands Constitutional Amendment (SJ003)

Hats off to WWF members for contacting their legislators – our voice was heard!

WWF and its sportsmen and conservation partners had a win on Jan. 26th when Senate President Bebout killed the public lands constitutional amendment. (Star Tribune; WPR)

Timeline of Events – A new dialogue
The Federal Select Natural Resources Committee of the Wyoming Legislature held a series of public hearings on this draft legislation for a constitutional amendment, providing an opportunity for sportsmen and sportswomen to have their voice heard.

We would like to thank the committee for this important public process. This Joint Resolution would have set the stage for Congress to transfer federal lands to state control. Such a move and similar attempts could have long term impacts on America’s public lands in Wyoming and how they are managed in the future.

Keep it Public coalition
WWF is part of a coalition, Keep it Public, composed of a host of sportsmen and conservation groups dedicated to outreach on keeping public lands under federal control. It started with a major rally held in early November in Casper and continued with outreach by our groups as well as with a successful social media campaign by WWF member Earl DeGroot (WY Sportsmen for Federal Lands).

WWF legislative efforts
In addition to this effort, WWF held meetings with legislators about the merits of this constitutional amendment, including a meeting WWF/NWF arranged between Sen. Bebout and Sen. Hicks with Colorado Sen. Kerry Donovan. This meeting was about a solutions-bill that Colorado passed in 2015 (letter by WWF). Sen. Hicks invited the entire Wyoming Legislature to this impromptu meeting; more than 25 attended, showing a major interest in this issue. We asked Federal Select committee members Chairman Bebout and Sen. Hicks to please consider alternatives and ways in which we can work together on the issues and concerns raised by the committee concerning federal lands management. These elected officials were more than receptive to this idea, and we are thankful this dialogue has begun.

Bottom line, the Wyoming Legislature heard from us that the wholesale transfer of public lands is not the answer. While we won this victory, our work on this important WWF campaign must persist as the political movement continues across the West and has even gained momentum at the U.S. Capitol and with our congressional delegation.

Other noteworthy WY legislative actions

SF0025 (new substitute filed) – Wildlife research, location and confidentiality
WWF, the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance and other conservation groups collectively decided to go against this bill that would have resulted in significant changes to Title 23, Game and Fish administration. Instead we offered new language concerning this issue of confidentiality of research. We felt the original bill was too broad in nature for such public records requests for wildlife data and information.

In an effort to move away from the initial bill, we successfully secured a substitute bill that includes changes to Title 16, the Wyoming Public Records Act. We feel this move satisfies the proponents of this bill but still retains the right to public information requests via Game and Fish. To this end, we had a pivotal meeting with Game and Fish leaders on this proposed substitute file/bill. On Thursday of this week, it passed out of the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee and will be introduced on the Senate floor.

HB0257 – Community and school access to public lands
WWF and other sportsmen and conservation partners have championed a bill to amend State Land Board statute to include additional valuation analysis (tourism dollars and other land values) for land exchange decisions by the State Land Board. Rep. Henderson is the sponsor of this bill, along with Rep. Connolly and Senators Hicks and Scott on the Senate side. We talked to a number of both house and senate members about the merits of the bill, with many agreeing more data, particularly outdoor tourism dollars and the value of access to adjacent public lands, should be included in statute for such land exchange decisions. This bill has been received for Introduction by the House.

SF0120 – Mentor antelope hunting voucher (with new amendment, passed)
This bill was amended by Sen. Bouchard and Bob Wharf to address the issues raised during the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife committee hearing on Tuesday (Jan. 26), for which WWF and the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance testified against. The committee accepted the amendment and passed the bill out of committee. This bill is scheduled to be introduced on the Senate floor next.

Awaiting Bill Number – Game and Fish funding
With General Fund reductions imposed by the 2017 Legislature, the Game and Fish Department budget was decreased by $6 million. As a result, the Appropriations Committee has moved to offset this loss through an increase in license fees. Game and Fish supports this move with the caveat that the Game and Fish Commission be granted the explicit authority to adopt these fee increases. A House bill, sponsored by Appropriations (under Budget),  has transpired and will be assigned to a committee in a near future.