WY Resident Preference Points – A Very Bad Idea for a Number of Reasons:
And here we go again. Another legislative session in Cheyenne and for some reason the same bad ideas seem to keep coming up, over and over again. Most of us here in Wyoming think of ourselves as much different from those in Washington, D.C. and for the most part we are. However, when it comes to the subject of resident preference points the bad idea just won’t seem to go away much like those bad ideas that seem to surface over and over again in Washington.
A preference point system for Wyoming’s residents is a bad, poorly thought-out idea and here are 12 reasons why from my point of view with over 40 years of Wyoming residency and nearly two decades of writing and compiling extensive analysis on Wyoming’s draw and application system from a perspective outside the agency.
1) HUNTER RECRUITMENT – Every single state that has implemented a point system has seen resident hunter recruitment drop drastically. Try telling your pre-teen son or daughter that he or she has to wait 33-years to draw a high-quality Wyoming elk tag and see what happens. The X-Box starts to look a whole lot more attractive in a hurry. Colorado has been one of the absolute worst cases for this.
2) POINT CREEP CRASHES THE SYSTEM EVENTUALLY – All true preference point systems eventually drift toward a random draw process in the end. Once the system becomes completely overloaded with applicants the mathematics no longer work and the system becomes a random draw system for those who got in on the ground floor and shuts out the low point people almost completely in the process. Point systems don’t solve anything in the end. Case and point, the point system got so bad in Arizona that the State had to carve out a portion of the high demand tags for a random draw to keep hunter/applicant interest up which in turn really ticked off the high point holders as the State changed the game midstream on them.
3) A RANDOM PROCESS IS MORE ATTRACTIVE – The states of ID and NM have no points systems and are beginning to see higher amounts of new hunter traffic for that reason. The old-school style, straight-up draw has become more and more appealing for younger hunters and those that have been late to the game, so to speak. Everyone having the same chance is exciting for people. That is why the lottery does not have a point/loyalty system; new people would refuse to participate, collapsing the system. Everyone has the same chance and that’s a good thing for interest and excitement.
4) LESS REVENUE LONG TERM – Since when has a government entity strategically planned for the long-term? Um, probably never, but the fact is a point system, while appealing from a revenue standpoint in the short term, can create a loss of revenue over the long haul. Once a high point holder draws a tag he will not go back into the system. He is either too old, or too discouraged by facing another 20-year wait. This has a huge effect financially on the system. The states of AZ, UT and NV are seeing this and it is hurting them big time in their budgets and revenues. A good-sized portion of the guys that draw those high-point elk tags in AZ never apply again.
5) HUNTER DISCOURAGEMENT – In the outlined AZ elk model above, unless the guy is in his 20s when he starts applying for tags, 33 years of diligently applying will put him past his core hunting age by the time he draws. I am already seeing this with the current WY nonresident point system. Guys are getting too old to hunt with 12-14 years vested into the system and do not plan on coming back to WY to apply once drawn.
6) EXTREME EXPECTATIONS – Once a guy or gal waits 33 years for an elk tag there better be a bunch of giant bulls out there for him to chase. His expectation for the hunt is so darn high he will never be satisfied unless the state can produce a bunch of 400” bulls which WY historically does not. We are already seeing this in the nonresident point system. This will cause a giant headache for the G&F Department as resident feedback must be considered on nearly every single management decision the department makes. This creates a process where the big game managers feel it necessary to cut the tag quotas drastically to even have a hope of producing the types of bulls the public expects, leaving more bulls to die of old age on the mountain. This become a no-win situation for the department in the end and no one is happy. Ask the State of Utah. When they were producing massive amounts of 400” bulls in the early 2000s they had to drop the elk quotas to such an anemic level that virtually no one could draw a tag, causing outrage from the public and headaches with the ranchers.
7) REGRET – Nearly every state game agency insider I have talked to has in some form conveyed regret for the implementation of their points systems over time. Most of them wish they would have just kept their systems clean neat and random in the end. To run some of these systems, it takes massive amounts of computing horsepower and programming time, which is extremely costly and complex.
8) THE BIG MYTH – There is a myth that a point system will miraculously solve the problem of too many applicants and not enough tags. This is totally false. There will never be enough tags to satisfy the hunting public and a preference point system will not remedy this. A point system can possibly equalize the 1% or 2% of the very lucky folks that always seem to draw tags placing those tags back into the pool for high point holders, however this change is usually statistically irrelevant. There will never be enough overly lucky applicants to even begin to compensate for the masses that find themselves unlucky. Placing two “lucky draw” elk tags from Area 30 back into the pool would not even budge the draw odds by three tenths of a single percent for the remaining applicants. Sorry, guys.
9) EXCESSIVE COST AND HEADACHE – Point systems are expensive to run and create a lot more work, processes and systems for the agencies to manage. This creates an extremely complex process where people are so vested in the system, that even the slightest mistake made can create outrage that would certainly make the front page of every single newspaper in the state. Most of these systems are outsourced to high tech out-of-state companies that know nothing about hunting or wildlife management. Ask the State of Colorado how this has worked out for them, as they have found themselves in the middle of a complete disaster after last year’s draw process changes created a mountain of applicants so large that they will never see or hear the end of it.
10) SIMPLICITY AND THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE – In war they say the element of surprise is a massive advantage. Although this is nothing like war by any means, the element of surprise that a random process brings usually creates a very high level of excitement. If you know exactly when you are going to draw a tag, the excitement just isn’t there from year to year. I have seen this happen over the years with Wyoming’s current process. The nonresident draw is usually lackluster and ho-hum. Most of the guys that draw expected it to be that way anyway. To residents however, the draw results are nearly like a second Christmas in June. The excitement levels are through the roof with text messages and Facebook posts and phone calls to family, friends and neighbors. This excitement is good for the sport and the system, the type of excitement that only the simplicity of a random draw process can create.
11) THE LION’S SHARE – The Department knows this all too well. From a purely mathematical and statistical perspective a preference point system is not needed in WY for residents for nearly 90% of the hunts. Wyoming residents get the lion’s share of the tags (84% for elk), and with less than 500,000 residents, it is mathematically ridiculous to implement a points system for the entire system just to try and fix a few extremely high demand hunt areas. The average limited quota resident bull elk tag in Wyoming has nearly 40% odds of being drawn. There is no need for a preference point system in Wyoming, not to mention, the points system has not fixed anything for moose and sheep and it won’t for deer, elk and antelope either. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but no mathematical gimmick in the world will increase your odds of drawing the elk tag in Area 100. With only 77 tags and nearly 4,000 applicants, you are either going to have to get really, really lucky or wait roughly 52 years. I’ll take the luck, thank you very much. Even a 20-year-old would be over 70 years old before he could be assured that elk tag.
12) LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES – The final reason may not be the most obvious to most but could be the most devastating of the bunch. All too often government tries to fix a perceived problem and what actually happens as a result ends up making the problem worse. And if that weren’t bad enough, the fact that most government “fixes” cannot be easily reversed makes the disastrous change permanent. In my opinion, this scenario will be more of the same. Once the point system is put in place, a promise is made and cannot be reversed. The whole idea is to move way from a random draw and into something less random and “more fair.” What will really happen is we will move away from a random draw and into something much more permanent and much more dedicated. When a state first initiates a preference point system three things happen, guys get 100% serious and dedicated to the system. Everyone wants to be on the ground floor of the new system or be left behind forever. Look at the mathematical prospects of entering nearly any state’s preference point system at this point in time with no points to your name. Not good. Second, with the cheap cost of resident tags, many applicants get serious and dedicated for others as well, applying their kids, wives and friends without ever missing a single year. And last, guys begin to work the system to their benefit. All three of these things result in one thing, more applicants than ever before. I would not be surprised one bit to see the total number of resident applicants in the draw to increase by 20%-30% or even more. I know a lot of guys that forget to apply or just hunt general for meat, or don’t apply for their kids because they have football in the fall. This will all be gone. Guys will get serious in a hurry to get in on the ground floor of this system. The resident deer hunter who prefers to just hunt over in Region G each fall will now apply for preference points. My neighbor who just likes to hunt cows will now become a trophy hunter and apply for points, to ensure a future bull even though he really doesn’t want one, but now he has to or forever be left behind. And the guy who got laid off last week that is going for forego the draw this year for financial reasons, will now sell a gun or some tools to make it happen. This will only ensure one thing and one thing only, we could get less than we already have as a result, with a permanent increase in applicants and serious ones.
These are just a few of the drawbacks of a point system. The G&F does not want a resident point system because they know the stats behind what they already have in place and I believe if the public could see those stats they wouldn’t want a point system either. Too many negatives, and once you start down that road, you can never, ever, ever go back, and that is a dangerous road to travel even for the government.