If you are one of the nearly 12,000 nonresident sheep or moose applicants in the Wyoming preference point system this will probably be one of the most infuriating articles you will read this year.
Before I go any further on this subject I need to highlight two important points of clarity, first off, most of my coworkers and I are residents of Wyoming and stand to benefit from this legislation. I will do my best to be as objective as possible on the subject with as many facts as possible.
Second, the wildlife inside the borders of the state of Wyoming and any other state for that matter, is the sole property of the residents of that state, period. The residents of the state of Wyoming through their governmental representation have the full right and responsibility to regulate as they see fit, the full management of that wildlife in its entirety. Sometimes that can be a tough pill to swallow for nonresident hunters who are at the full mercy of the residents of said state, particularly when those nonresidents are so heavily invested financially and emotionally into a preference point system.
Now for the hard part, earlier this morning Governor Mark Gordon signed House Bill 43 into Wyoming law. This bill changes the tag allocation for Wyoming’s most coveted big game tags to a 90/10 allocation for the “Wyoming Big Five” as they call it. This bill explicitly changes the nonresident tag allocations for bighorn sheep from 25% down to 10%, a net decrease of 60%, while the species of moose, Rocky Mountain goat and bison will be reduced from 20% down to 10%, a net decrease of 50%.
As you can imagine this will have a devastating effect on the preference point system for sheep and moose in Wyoming for nonresident applicants. The net effects of this are two-fold. First off, the amount of preference points required to draw a sheep or moose tag in Wyoming will more than double under the new system. For instance, Area-2, a very popular sheep area in Wyoming, currently has a tag quota of 20 sheep tags. Last year this tag took 22 preference points to draw for a nonresident hunter with one of the five nonresident tags being allocated in the random draw for one lucky applicant with less than 22 points. Under the new system, instead of five nonresident tags available for this hunt there will be only two nonresident tags available. There will be no tags available for the random draw and as a result, under the current demand the number of preference points required to draw a nonresident sheep tag in Area-2 will now be 53 preference points and counting! Yes, you read that correctly this “middle of the road” sheep hunt will now take more than 50 preference points to draw!
Second, as you can see, the preference point system as it is currently structured is mathematically insolvent. I believe the state will be forced to ditch the preference point system and implement some sort of bonus point system where there are no longer any guarantees as to when you will draw a tag. With around 11,000-point holders in the system for both moose and sheep and a newly reduced nonresident tag allocation of 18 sheep tags, down from 44 tags and 36 moose tags from 72 tags, there will not ever be enough resources to fulfill the demand. Using those numbers, it would take 651 years to fulfill every sheep applicant and 315 years for every moose applicant in the system to get drawn. As you can easily see, the system will collapse under its own weight as it now stands.
If the state does not change the preference point system, there will be very, very few if any tags available in the random draw. Effectively reducing your chances of drawing a sheep or moose tag in Wyoming to zero unless you have more than 20 preference points.
If I had to guess, the Game and Fish Department is probably in the process of interviewing good defense attorneys, as the class action lawsuits are certain to fly. The idea of having to refund every nonresident applicant, all 22,000 of them, their preference point fees for the past 26 years would surely push the department to the point of insolvency. A bill of more than $50 million could be on the line. Add this to a department which is already in a massive fight with the landowners of Wyoming regarding how livestock reimbursements for wolf and grizzly bear depredations are calculated, a case that has been pushed up to the state Supreme Court after the Game and Fish lost every single case all the way up the judicial chain thus far, and the potential dollars on the line are almost beyond imagination. Needless to say, the state continues to retain piss poor legal representation and should probably give Jerry Spence in Jackson a call sometime soon.
I have said from the beginning that Wyoming has been beyond generous to nonresident hunters when it comes to sheep and moose tags. A 20 -25% nonresident allocation is well beyond what most neighboring and comparative states allocate. That is a fact. Colorado is the next most generous with a maximum of 10% while most other states are 3-5% maximum for nonresident sheep and moose tag allocations. So, I can clearly see the basis for the 90/10 argument regardless of my personal opinion. But this could just be the beginning.
As if this were not bad enough news, it could potentially get much, much worse for nonresident hunters in Wyoming. The WWTF, the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force set up by the Commission and the Governor, of which I know a few of the members personally, is apparently working out a potential compromise for a 90/10 allocation for deer, elk and antelope as well. This process is in its infancy and has a long, long way to go yet. At this point, from what I am hearing this compromise appears to include, transferable land-owner tags, and an up to 50% outfitter set aside for outfitted nonresident hunters. Needless to say, this change would be horrendous for the DIY nonresident hunter as the nonresident allotment would be cut in half, and then half of that would be set aside for guided hunters, all while further subtracting the nonresident landowner tags from this pool in addition.
Potentially under this possible system, the nonresident DIY hunter could see their odds of drawing an elk, deer and antelope tag in Wyoming cut by nearly 90%. For instance, the famed Region G deer tag, currently has a quota of 400 nonresident buck deer tags. Under the proposed system, that quota would automatically drop to 200 tags with the 90/10 law, then 100 of those remaining tags would be given to outfitters in the region and then at least half of those remaining 100 tags could be sold to nonresidents by landowners in the area taking the total DIY quota down to only 50 total tags or even less. With 2,150 total applicants (for the 2021 draw) for this hunt the amount of preference points needed to hunt here could skyrocket to over 40 points or more. This general region hunt could easily become a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor.
The 90/10 law for deer, elk and antelope still has a long way to go with some very large hurdles to be negotiated yet. If nothing, else, the financial repercussions of this change alone would be devastating for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Of the total $80 million budget, nonresident hunters and fisherman account for more than 60% of the revenue. This change could cut the department’s revenues by 30-40%. A cut of this magnitude would essentially be unsustainable. The residents will not bear this financial burden, we are confident in that, possibly leaving, yet again, the nonresident hunters to pick up the financial tab. We will keep you posted on the progress of this legislation as it progresses.
As a result of these scenarios, if you find yourself as a high point holder in Wyoming I would highly suggest you think about burning those points soon. This could easily get worse before it gets better.
While this news is bad for most of you reading this, it could get worse than worse for those of you who apply for many states throughout the West each year. Wyoming is not alone in this process. The state of Colorado is following Wyoming’s lead on this. There is a movement afoot in Colorado to accomplish the same result there as well. It’s no secret that Colorado has been extremely generous to nonresident hunters when it comes to tag allocation over the years. That could be coming to an end as the residents of Colorado are vying for more of their tags and the elimination of the over the counter elk options for nonresident hunters and bowhunters statewide. We will keep you updated on the progress of this movement as well in the coming months.