Wyoming Senate committee plans hearing on bill to cut nonresident hunting licenses

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Faced with strong opposition from outfitters and the prospect of losing state revenue, a Wyoming Senate committee on Tuesday voted down a bill that would have cut the percentage of hunting licenses set aside for nonresident hunters for coveted species such as bighorn sheep.

The Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee voted 4-1 against the bill. Sen. Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, cast the sole vote for the bill. Voting against were Sen. James L. Anderson, R-Casper; Sen. Stan Cooper, R-Kemmerer; Sen. Bernadine Craft, D-Rock Springs; and Sen. Wayne Johnson, R-Cheyenne.

Nonresidents pay $2,266 for a Wyoming bighorn tag versus $122 for residents. Nonresidents pay more for other tags as well. A fiscal analysis of the bill stated it would cost the Wyoming Game and Fish Department about $169,000 a year in lost license fees.

After the vote, Barnard said he's concerned that many Wyoming hunters are finding it more difficult to obtain licenses. "The citizens of Wyoming should be given priority over the nonresidents," he said.

Cooper, the committee chairman, said he voted against the bill mainly because of concern about its effect on revenues. He said the Legislature has been adamant it wants the department to be as self-sufficient as possible and added that many communities benefit heavily from nonresident hunters.

Sponsor Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, told the committee the bill would have brought Wyoming in line with how neighboring states allocate such licenses. Wyoming sets aside 25 percent of its bighorn sheep and mountain goat tags and 20 percent of its moose licenses for out-of-state hunters. Hicks' bill would have lowered that figure to 10 percent for all three species.

The bill also would have changed the allocation of bison licenses. Currently, all applications go into one random draw. The bill would have reserved 90 percent of tags for Wyoming residents.

Hicks said New Mexico limits nonresidents to 6 percent of its sheep tags. Montana, Idaho and several other states limit nonresident hunters to 10 percent of bighorn tags.

It can typically take decades for hunters to draw tags for bighorn sheep in states around the West. Tags sold at auction to fund conservation programs have gone for over $100,000.

"The resident hunters in the state of Wyoming lost today," Hicks said.

Several Wyoming hunters spoke in favor of the bill, saying residents deserve a greater share of licenses to reflect the work that they've done for generations to preserve and enhance game populations.

Spokesmen for the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association, the Wyoming Business Alliance and the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen spoke against the bill, voicing concerns ranging from reducing tourism to lowering revenues.

Kyle Meintzer of Reno, Nevada, testified he's been applying for a sheep tag in Wyoming for years and has accumulated 15 annual preference points. He said nonresident hunters trusted Wyoming to stick to a bargain when it started selling preference points decades ago.

"The message was also being sent: Give us the money and if you live long enough and keep paying your money long enough, there's a chance you can get a tag. This bill blows that out of the water," Meintzer said.

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