Sportsmen groups split over set-asides
By JEFF GEARINO Southwest Wyoming bureau Sunday, July 24, 2005 GREEN RIVER -- The state's two premier sportsmen organizations are coming down on opposite sides of a proposal to set aside some elk licenses for nonresident clients of Wyoming outfitters.
The Wyoming Wildlife Federation adamantly opposes the set-aside proposal crafted by the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association that was presented to a legislative task force last week, federation President Mark Winland said.
Winland said Wyoming's wildlife shouldn't be for sale. Wildlife is a public resource, not a commodity for outfitters or any other special interest groups to sell to the highest bidder, he said.
But the board of the state's newest sportsmen's group, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife of Wyoming, is supporting the concept, said group Executive Director Bob Wharff.
Wharff said his organization supports efforts to stabilize the state's outfitting industry and doesn't consider the proposal a subsidy for outfitters. He stressed the proposal would have absolutely no impact on resident hunting.
Many outfitters across the state have pushed for years for licenses to be set aside for their clients to bring more certainty to their business. Outfitters believe the current system discourages nonresident hunters from booking guides in Wyoming because the outfitters have poor odds that their clients will draw permits to hunt here.
But opponents including the federation contend set-aside licenses are unfair to the nonresident hunters who don't want to use outfitters or guides. Their chances of drawing a license would be lower if permits are removed from the lottery system to accommodate outfitted hunters.
The state's outfitting industry put forth a proposal July 12 to create a "closed license pool," more commonly known as set-aside licenses, of 2,900 elk hunting licenses for licensed outfitters each season. A special legislative task force voted to support further discussion of the topic.
Ready for a fight
The Wyoming Wildlife Federation, formed in 1937, is the state's largest conservation group of hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts, with more than 5,000 members.
Winland said the federation is gearing up to fight the proposal because it feels the state should not be in the business of guaranteeing an income to any special-interest group. Wildlife management, he said, should not be based on economic factors, and no economic interest should get preferential access.
Winland said the federation believes that sportsmen from all economic walks of life should have an equal opportunity to draw hunting licenses. Having the financial capability to hire an outfitter should not be a factor in drawing a hunting license.
"Hunting licenses are not currency, and wildlife is not a commodity to be bought and sold," he said.
Though the proposal only involves nonresident licenses, Winland said the issue is still of paramount importance to the state's resident hunters.
"We have staunchly defended public access to public wildlife and the equality of that access, and we're very much opposed to this," Winland said in a phone interview.
"Just because we're shafting nonresidents doesn't change the principle of the matter ... Any step taking wildlife toward the marketplace and toward the privatization of a public resource and giving it away to commercial interests is wrong," he said.
"We've always stood the high ground on that, and it has always been a hill to die on for us," Winland said. "Any step toward wildlife becoming a commodity or being in the marketplace is a step in the wrong direction."
He said the federation worries that if outfitters are guaranteed licenses, there would be an immediate rush from landowners and businesses applying for outfitter licenses and the guaranteed economic profits that would come with those outfitter licenses.
"Even though this doesn't affect residents directly, if the outfitters gain these licenses, we predict that landowners will be next in line," Winland said. "Once set-aside licenses are approved, there's really no argument for not giving them to landowners as well. It's a slippery slope, and we can't support any step in that direction."
Help for outfitters
Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife of Wyoming is the state's newest sportsmen's group and has quickly grown to include several thousand members. The organization was formed in 2002 and now has eight chapters in Wyoming, the most recent established in Laramie County.
Wharff said his group believes it's absolutely necessary to protect Wyoming's hunting heritage. Protecting that heritage includes the outfitting heritage as well.
"We do support taking a look at somehow stabilizing the outfitting industry and taking a look at this proposal," Wharff said in a phone interview.
"This has absolutely no impact on residents, and for that reason our group has a hard time opposing this," he said. "To me it's kind of a no-brainer, (because) you can't show us where it affects resident hunters. This isn't our group's fight, but we would like to see this get resolved. The state stands nothing to gain by continuing to strain our outfitters."
Wharff said taking measures to stabilize the boom-bust cycle that now takes place in the outfitting industry will greatly improve the outcome for many nonresident hunters and enhance their Wyoming hunting experience.
He noted the set-aside proposal differs slightly from previous set-aside proposals that would have given licenses directly to outfitters. Outfitters are now proposing that guides enter a closed-pool lottery and compete directly with other state-licensed outfitters for the set-aside licenses.
"We don't feel that's a subsidy, because a subsidy would be if you guaranteed so many licenses per outfitter," Wharff said.
"When you put in all the nonresidents into the pool, they are making a choice just like with preference points ... where the guys that want preference points can buy them and the guys that don't want them don't have to," he said.
"Why don't we go with the same type thing and say the guys who want to go with an outfitter, here's your pool?" Wharff said. "If you want to go on a guided hunt and know that you're going to have a chance of getting a license, you have to compete against all the other guys who want a guided hunt for those licenses."
Wharff said the 2,900 licenses proposed to be set aside may be too high.
"When you start crunching the numbers, we're a little concerned that's more (set-aside) licenses than there really should be," he said.
Wharff also suggested outfitters consider giving up the state's requirement that nonresident hunters use licensed guides while hunting in wilderness areas, in return for set-aside licenses.
"I would hope that the outfitters would look strongly at what's to be gained by maintaining that guide requirement for wilderness areas," he said. "What we're trying to do is position this into a win-win situation for both nonresident hunters and the outfitters. I think it can be accomplished."
* Last we knew: Legislation supported by Wyoming outfitters in 1994 sought to establish a pool of nonresident licenses to be set aside for their clients to give them a better chance of drawing tags. The bill failed to pass the House by a narrow margin.
* The latest: The Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association asked a legislative committee to consider a proposal to create a closed license pool of 2,900 nonresident elk hunting licenses that would be allocated, or set aside, for the clients of the state's approximately 350 state-licensed outfitters.
* What's next: The Legislature-appointed Task Force on the Hunting Segment of Tourism will meet again to discuss the issue Sept. 6 in Casper.
Southwest Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino can be reached at (307) 875-5359 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well it is kinda simple to see who NOT to join in Wyo. or Re-new your membership with .......... in Idaho and Utah....Anti-Non-resident SFW.....
I wonder what it would take to get WWF to branch out into Utah and Idaho.