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The Quick, Fiery Death of Wyoming Senate Bill SF0103

Rest easy- Your hunting licenses will not be increasing by 85%, for now.

Keeping with tradition, the odd years in Wyoming bring odd and sometimes tired old retreads of legislative bills gone by the wayside from the past legislative session. Senate bill SF0103 is one such case. This bill has been refined from the last time it was introduced but still lacked any real serious support at the state legislative level. The bill failed miserably to emerge from the senate TRW (Travel, Recreation and Wildlife) committee by a vote of 1-4, meaning this proposal was far from favorable once the Committee looked further into the repercussions of such a bill on the Game and Fish Commissions fiscal responsibilities to the state’s sportsman and the department as a whole.

On a bit of a side note, Wyoming is a very traditional and conservative state by nature. Bills like these have a very, very tough road to reality in Wyoming. When it comes to wildlife related legislation, the state has a very guarded approach to wildlife related bills that do not have the full support of the Governor’s Game and Fish Commission. Wyoming sees wildlife management through ballot measures and stiff-arm legislation as a true threat to their system. I do not see our Governor ever signing a piece of wildlife related legislation without the full consent and recommendation of the Game and Fish Commission, period. The Governor appoints the commission at his discretion for a reason. There are lessons to be learned from the Colorado wolf reintroduction debacle. 

The details of this bill are somewhat straightforward which is surprising for politics these days, but this is Wyoming after-all. In a nutshell, this bill aimed to cut the nonresident tag allocation for big game licenses to less than 10% from the historic norms of around 20%, depending on the species (moose-16%, sheep-25%, deer, elk and antelope-20%). The original bill introduced a few years ago was very simple and straightforward to that change. But the bill quickly ran into a brick wall regarding funding concerns given the fact that nonresident hunters contribute a massive haul of more than 77% of the total licensing revenue generated by the state of Wyoming. In addition, nonresident applicants in Wyoming contribute more than $12,000,000 worth of preference point fees each and every year to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s budget, while resident applicants only pony up an anemic $100,000. Plain and simple, slashing nonresident hunting licenses by half did not sit well with Wyoming legislators, Game and Fish Commissioners, Outfitters or our Governor. The original bill died quickly.  

With the bloom of another legislative year brings another opportunity at a run for this bill as a more refined version including a funding realignment component that would, according to the bill, actually increase revenues to the state Game and Fish Department. This new retreaded bill, Senate Bill SF0103 again sought to cut the nonresident tag allocations by more than half, but also sought to nearly double the cost of what tags were left to nonresident hunters and applicants. In addition, the bill seeks to increase application fees slightly for both resident and nonresident hunters ($5 to $7 for resident, and $15 to $17 for nonresident) alike. The bill would also eliminate nonresident applicants from any hunt that garners less than 10 tags in the quota altogether and would create a $500,000 wildlife crop damage fund with the increased license fees, obviously a landowner crumb thrown in to increase potential legislator support. 

The net result would be an $8 million increase in net revenue funding to the Game and Fish Department for the 2023 fiscal year. I assume that figure is correct given it was computed and verified by the folks cooking up the bill, but I did not take the time to back calculate the number as fact. 

Some of the obvious problems with this bill include the fact that this bill would literally gut and neuter the nonresident preference point system as it stands. There would no longer be enough nonresident tags allocated into the system to operate the current dual application system placing all nonresidents into one single draw pool, essentially eliminating the “Regular” draw pool and placing everyone into the “Special” draw pool with massively increased fees. I also think this would probably collapse the Wyoming preference point system with demand. The state of Wyoming is seeing massive influxes of applicants into the system currently. For instance, five years ago Wyoming had a total of 67,000 total applicants with elk preference points inside the system, this year there will be nearly 125,000 nonresident applicants vying for an elk tag in the Cowboy State. This represents a massive increase of 87% or nearly 58,000 applicants! The system is not sustainable as it currently sits, without cutting the available tags in half.

The negative economic impacts to the state tourism industry would also be less than ideal as nonresident hunters contribute tens of millions of dollars to our economy each and every year in areas that otherwise see very little tourism dollars during the very busy summer months. The guiding and outfitting industries in Wyoming are a vital sector of our seasonal economy, like it or not. The hunting season also extends the tourism season by nearly two months in Wyoming towns like Jackson, Cody and Sheridan. 

And of course, there is always the risk of making hunting more and more of a “rich man’s” endeavor with massive price escalations such as those proposed in this bill. The cost of a nonresident elk tag would increase by 59%, 76% for deer and a whopping 85% for antelope. 

As for the resident perspective on all of this. I certainly do not speak for myself here. Most residents I talk to, do seem a bit intrigued by a potential increase in their share of Wyoming’s hunting bounty, but all in all really don’t think it is a fight worth having at this point. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it kind of deal. As a resident myself, I can understand that line of thinking. Would it be nice to get a few more tags for ourselves? Yeah probably, but is it worth the damage to our department and our economy? Probably not. The last thing we want as residents is our Game and Fish Department depending more on resident dollars to make their budgets work. Is the $62 resident elk tag nice to have? Yes, however that price comes as a sacrifice by the nonresident hunter. The more we depend on nonresident dollars for wildlife funding the more the state must consider nonresident concerns with regard to our wildlife management decisions. A potential down the road risk if you ask me. 

And let’s face it, putting 741 bull elk tags back into the resident system of over 10,000 total elk tags really won’t change your draw odds by very much in the end. There’s no magic, hard tags are going to be hard to draw no matter what you do. 

Be careful what you wish for. I have talked to numerous out of state hunters that are fed up with the tough draws and increasing prices in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and rebelling from the system not by dropping their applications, but by moving there to gain residency. This will undoubtedly increase the demand on the resident application systems throughout the West in the future, which could actually play into the need for bills like this in future. 

If you look at this bill fairly however, one could make a very strong argument for a future tag allocation realignment for nonresident applicants. Particularly when you compare Wyoming’s very, very generous nonresident allocation to that of other neighboring states. A 25% nonresident tag allocation for bighorn sheep seems extreme when compared to most other states in the West where a 5% allocation is more the norm. 

No matter what you think of Senate Bill SF0103, the signs all point to increased nonresident tag prices and reduced nonresident tag allocations throughout the West for the future. There just isn’t enough wildlife resources in the West for the increasing, massive demand we are seeing headed our way. The CoVid-19 pandemic is creating a massive population redistribution throughout the country and conservative Western states are seeing more than their fair share of new residents making this situation accelerate even faster.

About Guy Eastman, Editor-In-Chief

Following in the footsteps of his father, Guy has taken up the reins and is now at the helm of the Eastmans’ Hunting Journal and the Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal. A fine hunter in his own right, Guy has taken several trophy animals and has become an expert in trophy hunting as well.

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12 comments

  1. It’s gonna happen 2nd year in a row it was tried….Wyoming needs to cut back on Non-resident tags and come in-line with other state so a 10-15% max on non resident tag max is coming. The day is near where non-resident hunting tags will be harder to draw.

    • I live in Wisconsin a nonresident tag is $165 and get same tags as any resident no preference for residents

  2. They are already hard to draw…most species in most states are once in a lifetime draws if ever. And yes as a Colorado Resident, who gives more non resident tags out then any one it frustrates me. Not because we give out so many tags but that few other states reciprocate. The New Mexico Residents drive across the border and buy the Elk tag over the counter or deer tag with a couple points but I am allotted only 7% of the tags in their state. And don’t even get me started on Oregon and Washington tag allotments. You hunt Montana in the fall and you almost as many WA and OR plates as you do local. And yet those guys give like 1% of the tags for non-residents. So the Washington hunter hunts Montana 2 out of every 3 years and the Montana guy gets to hunt Washington 1 out of every 25-30 years. Hmmm

    • If you live out west most likely you dislike non resident hunters in your state! I used to think this way, but my views have changed with age and education. Non resident hunters generate large amounts of dollars for your states funding. Without non resident dollars, residents would have to fund the process alone. That would mean a huge jump in license cost, or other fee increases. A Huge hurdle for the residents to handle alone. The need for more money in the future to handle higher costs and state budgets to combat inflation is inevitable, like it or not. The need for more money will only increase.
      The next large piece of the puzzle is we residents and non residents hunters are both after the same thing. The opportunity to obtain a tag, which provides us with the reason to be out enjoying the national forest and BLM lands. If you hunt private property then non resident hunters are not generally a direct competitor at your spot. The western US has enormous tracts of public hunting opportunities. This is a treasure I truly enjoy! Access to public lands is priceless. The middle and eastern sections of our country do not have this priceless treasure.
      Wyoming residents should enjoy relatively low tag prices and the ability to still purchase over the counter general licenses! Many western states no longer have OTC tags. Residents have to apply for the draw process for general licenses. Certain wildlife species like mule deer are not increasing in population, most likely tags numbers will continue to decline to help maintain population numbers. Enjoy your opportunities while you have them. Wyoming residents have many positives to focus on.
      Last but not least, realize non residents will always be your competition, but not your enemy! The day will come when all of us sportsmen will have to stand together on important issues like the 2nd. Amendment and the ability to keep our privileges of hunting and fishing! We will have to all stand United.

      • Glad to hear your insights. I am an out-of-stater that travels to Idaho from West Virginia every year. We are all hunters and have the same interest. We enjoy time spent in the outdoors hunting and enjoying Gods wonderful creation. I’m sure some of the out-of-state hunters don’t have the respect for your home territories that they should but There’s hypocrites in all walks of life and both in-state and out of state hunters. How many locals would travel 2,400 miles 39 hr drive and pay $960 for license and tag, travel expenses and two weeks vacation for the opportunity to hunt Elk? I guess what I’m trying to say is the vast majority of the out-of-state hunters are some of the most dedicated hunters you could come across. I enjoy getting to know the local hunters and most of them have been very friendly. It’s not an us vs you situation. We’re all on the same team.

    • Please don’t correlate all WA residents with the nightmare politicians who run the show here. I highly doubt most folks from out of state would choose to hunt here anyway – it sucks by in large! Thus the reason we try our luck in other states that have viable habitat and management (and income from non-residents).

  3. Pretty simple – a Bill like this will say to residents – and most of the persons are not even hunters but get to vote by the way – non residents should pay more – the voters again 75% non hunters and does not even effect them – will see it on the ballot and vote “yes” increase the fees on these foreigners from out of State- done ! Like everywhere else it’s been done ! Super super easy Bill to pass. Persons do not analyze the whole picture which Mr. Eastman correctly points out, instead they boil it down to I pay less they pay more, I get more tags so I vote yes ! Simple. Just like Wolf introduction- they just look at words “introduce or not” simple – no analysis and say it would be cool to see one in the wild – they vote yes. Simple people simple answers – no thinking involved when things hit a ballot. And who knows all the other crap in the Bill too? Our wonderful system were so proud of is not really that great by the way !

  4. Daniel Pochciol

    Something no one ever seems to mention is how all of this will affect all of our young hunters into the future. I have four grandchildren right now one will be 12 this fall and is very excited about hunting here in pa. However I don’t feel there will be much of a chance she will ever get to hunt the West due to all of the roadblocks for non residents to get a license. Preference points ,high cost of licensing ect. If we can’t get our youth involved where will all of the non residents come from in the future? Youth involvement in hunting has been on a decline for many years. I am 53 years old when I started hunting when I was 12 there were about 1.5 Million hunters in pa last year there were about 800,000 license sold so in 40 years we at about half. If nonresident license sales make up 77% of the f&g budget and you loose nonresident hunters who will pick up the tab in the future. Less tags and higher prices I do not believe is the answer.

    • Your correct the youth numbers have declined so sad to see this,we need to find a way to get more youth involved,if not it won’t matter how many points you need to get a tag.

  5. Voting is a lost cause when the people who do not own land have an equal vote. They have very little to lose when they vote for increased fees or taxes. Rural voters will lose everyday of the week because the highest population locations are in big cities, meaning they own the vote. I’m sure LC will help Wyoming, if she can get over herself.

    The biggest concern I see is with the direction we are headed as a country, I feel we may need to create some sort of militia to protect these natural resources. With 2-3 million illegals coming into this country this year the normal resources will be exhausted and they may go after the wildlife to survive.

    With every bill being passed the common factors are $$$ and the bad outcomes from poor thoughts and feelings not facts or reality.

  6. As a 5th generation Wyomingite, I’m disappointed in Eastman’s depiction of SF0103 and his betrayal of his fellow Wyomingites by opposing 90/10.

    I worked closely with Sen. Larry Hicks on this bill and the prior one and Eastman fails to mention would have brought 90/10 tag allocation (90% resident, 10% nonresident) for all of Wyoming’s Big Game Species.

    Wyoming is by far, the most liberal western state in terms of NR tag allocation and this bill would have brought us in line with Idaho, Montana, Utah, etc. – all our neighboring states. It would have meant over 3,500 more resident hunters would receive limited quota big game tags currently going to nonresidents, including over 30 bighorn sheep tags.

    Eastman makes his money of nonresident hunters via movies, tag strategies, subscriptions, outfitting … just another part of the over-glorified hunting industry and over promotion and extreme marketing of western state hunting to midwestern and eastern state hunters.

    90/10 isn’t going away. Ask any Wyoming resident hunter if he/she favors more tags for Wyomingites and the answer is obvious. More and more Wyoming resident hunters are waking up to this issue and are generally pissed that our neighboring states have 90/10 already and Wyoming doesn’t.

    SF0103 would have increased limited quota tags for resident hunters and raised $8 million for the G&F department every year by bringing Wyoming’s NR tag prices up to market levels. It was a clear win-win.

    SF0103 was opposed by the Wyoming Outfitters, Wyoming Stockgrowers and Wyoming Chamber of Commerce … but still got over 12 sponsors in the Wyoming Legislature and would have had a 50/50 chance of passing if it’s made it to the Senate floor.

    We defeated one State Senator who voted against 90/10 in 2020 and the 4 who voted against it this year in committee have targets on their backs. God help the Governor if it passes and he betrays resident hunters by vetoing it. This is an easy, Wyoming First issue.

    If you are a resident hunter, we need your help. Learn more at 307hunter.com

  7. As a resident I’m not sweating the non-resident limited quota tags. It’s the general unit tags that are sold in large quantities and create an excess amount of hunting pressure in those areas. Have you hunted deer in any of the general units in Wyoming lately that wasn’t a 6-10 mile pack in or isn’t some sort of access through private? They are overrun for the most part.

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