Landowner incentives still exclude transferrable licenses
After a series of joint meetings between the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Board of Agriculture (BOA), a subcommittee has formed to collaborate on ideas to provide more incentives for landowners to open their deeded acres to public hunting.
“Most of the incentives will, more than likely, be based on habitat improvements,” says Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Steve Ferrell. “Most of the programs with which I’ve been familiar in my career have focused on on-the-ground improvements – multiple use water developments and habitat treatments from prescribed burns to removing juniper trees to fertilizing irrigated pasture.”
Ferrell says he anticipates it’s those types of incentives that will be discussed for use in Wyoming. At the most recent joint meeting between the groups on Sept. 23, a joint statement was passed that specifically excludes transferrable licenses from being a part of those incentives.
“In a time when we are seeing a decrease of hunters nationwide, access to land for hunting plays a crucial role in maintaining our hunting tradition and in maintaining funding for wildlife management and conservation funded by sportsmen,” the statement reads. “During the 1990s, the WGFD started the Private Lands/Public Wildlife (PLPW) Access Program to maintain and enhance public access onto private and landlocked public lands. Specific to access for hunting, the PLPW program includes hunter management and walk-in areas and the Hunter/Landowner Assistance Program. Landowner support for these programs has been outstanding, and these programs currently provide hunting access to over 1.6 million acres of private land in Wyoming. The BOA and Commission are interested in evaluating other landowner incentives (excluding transferrable licenses) to increase success of these programs even more.”
Wyoming has started down the path of transferrable landowner licenses at least three times, the most recent being 10 years ago, about the time that PLPW was initiated, says past-WGFD Director Terry Cleveland.
“There was an effort by the Commission to recognize the contributions of private landowners in terms of providing access to the public for the purposes of hunting and fishing,” says Cleveland. “The PLPW program was meant to recognize those long-standing contributions, and in some small way financially to pay them to continue that privilege they grant to hunters. One of those options the Commission explored was the ability for the landowner to transfer the landowner licenses they received.”
Once the idea was hatched, a series of meetings were held around the state, and a public adamantly opposed to the idea voiced their opinions.
“Several states have a process to allow landowners to get licenses in exchange for allowing the public to hunt the same species on the land,” says Cleveland. “In most states, the landowner gets the privilege of hunting antlered or male game only, while the public has the opportunity for more of the female segment of the harvest. The Commission’s proposal changed that, to make it more agreeable to the public, in that the public would have an equal or even greater opportunity to harvest male opportunities.
“It was a strong attempt by the Commission to recognize the importance of private lands to wildlife, and recognize that the public needs the opportunity to hunt on private lands.”
Cleveland says his sense is that it became a conflict of the classes, or the non-landed public versus the “gentry” landowners.
“Over the years, there’s been resentment on both sides. From the landowners’ perspective, there’s been resentment against sportsmen with poor sportsmanship and damage to private land, and against not being adequately compensated for their private property. From the sportsmen’s perspective, there’s an ill feeling because, growing up, they could hunt anyplace – nobody even asked permission – and that’s changed. It’s a deep-rooted and difficult issue.”
“Wyoming’s been down that path at least three times, and I’ve personally been down that road once in Arizona. From what I understand, the same thing happened here – the sportsmen objected to it strenuously,” says Ferrell.
Ferrell says the WGFD practices the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, along with the rest of the country, which says everyone gets equal access to wildlife.
“The reason sportsmen have objected to transferring landowner licenses is that they typically sell at fair market value, as opposed to the face value of the license,” explains Ferrell. “It’s not uncommon for a bull elk tag to be sold for thousands of dollars, and the average sportsman says that allows the rich guy to hunt every year, rather than going through the draw.”
“There are some who say that transferring licenses privatizes wildlife, and gives some an opportunity to sell wildlife for personal gain,” says Ferrell. “But the primary objection has been the issue of allowing folks to annually purchase a hunting opportunity at a much higher price than most people can afford. They can cut to the head of the line, and have an assured opportunity for a high price, as opposed to going through the draw.”
So, today, Ferrell says the incentives offered will be projects to benefit both wildlife and livestock. “The department would invest our resources in those things, because as a state agency we have to make sure there’s a benefit to the general public,” he notes.