Wyoming Game and Fish doesn't allow the non-resident to hunt big game on federal wilderness areas without a licensed guide, yet the resident can. It is simply unconstitutional to discriminate between resident and non-resident hunters in terms of access. We should all have equal access opportunities on our federal public lands.
I just recently returned from a self-guided elk hunt in Wyoming. Before making the trip I thoroughly researched the hunting units that are available to a non-resident. Utilizing google earth, purchased maps, study of harvest data, discussions with game biologist and USFS rangers, I developed a keen understanding of multiple areas to hunt. From the beginning, I questioned the Game and Fish representatives about the guide requirement on wilderness areas. Not a single employee new of a ticket written to a non-resident for hunting on wilderness without a guide. We even joked that I would meet a game warden on opening day at the wilderness boundary to be the first. Despite my initial disgust for not being allowed to hunt on our national wilderness areas, I quizzed the biologists and studied the harvest data to determine some good alternative places to start. Having a BS in wildlife management and being a seasoned archery elk hunter, I new what to look for in a hunting area. I studied and generate numbers like bulls harvested per square mile, elk density estimates, utilize past telemetry studies, etc. To make a long story short, I paid outrageous fees, and found few elk to speak of. I hunted the best USFS land in Greys River, units west of Gros Ventre, the head of the Wind River, even the Sierra Madre and found few elk number and poor herd structure. I wanted to venture into the wilderness areas for it was all around me in the Jackson area, however we didn’t risk it for my father is a State wildlife biologist. Essentially I paid the full license fee, feed grounds fee, conservation stamp, archery permit, and was not able to hunt the best public land elk habitat around the Jackson area.
In a court case filled against Wyoming Game and Fish which was dismissed, I noticed a reference about delineation of hunting units and that the unit in question had both wilderness and USFS land in it. However, the court didn’t recognize that game animals are not evenly dispersed across a hunting unit. Rather, typically 90% of game can only be found in 10% of the habitat for a given time and season. For example, the best summer and early fall range for the Jackson elk herd is found on the wilderness areas, hence creating a privileged situation for the resident and licensed guide. And to add to it, the USFS is continuing to annex more federal land under wilderness jurisdiction. This is great for many forms of public recreation, however it further limits access for the non-resident hunter in Wyoming. The guides are sure happy. Question: There might be a Wyoming state law that guarantees no net loss of hunting land. Would this apply for the non-resident?
The state has been granted the authority to manage the wildlife resources within their borders. For game animals, they regulate hunting periods, harvest method, harvest number and allowable take all within a location or unit. However, Wyoming has taken it a step further towards the end of marketing wildlife resources for capital gains and even further by regulating access by participating license holders on federal lands. If a non-resident pays an inflated fee to gain a license then we should have equal rights as the resident. Isn’t this why the state can justify the inflated rate, since the non-resident provides little towards the state tax base. Once we buy a license, we have a tag, the tag that gives us the privilege to hunt game within that state. So when the state doesn’t allow equal access, it is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The USFS controls access to federal lands, not the Game and Fish. With an agenda to support the local guide services, the WGF has stepped out of its given rights to manage wildlife resources. Rather they are supporting private enterprise at the expense of the non-resident and potentially wildlife resources .
I’m just an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, but I have many questions. Does USFS support the access laws that WGF have adopted? Is there a precedent in other states where non-residences have equal rights to access wilderness areas? Idaho, Montana, Colorado. What is the relationship between the Wyoming guide association and WGF. Is wilderness access a regulation or law and was it passed by the state legislature?
I don’t have the funds to start making legal cases. However, I do have the time to start making these issues more aware to the public. The key to change is public support. While working for Idaho Game and Fish and Virginia Dept of Game and Fish, I learned that the public majority dictates laws and regulations. I feel that the more hunters know, we will begin to see an outcry of support for equal access and potentially fair licensing allocation. If you have any comments they will be greatly appreciated.