The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is in the midst of an information-gathering effort that will inform a strategic plan intended to guide its coming years.
Department officials, with the help of an outside company called Responsive Management, are taking part in public meetings around the state this week. The natural resource survey firm has also conducted telephone surveys and set up an online forum.
Their findings will be presented to Game and Fish officials who will develop a plan to direct future management of the department’s fisheries, wildlife and public programs.
At a Laramie meeting Monday night, several dozen people gathered to share their opinions with local officials.
Tom Beppler, senior research associate for Virginia-based Responsive Management, said Wyoming residents from each of the department’s regions have been surveyed by telephone already. The company conducted focus groups around the state while also interviewing a few hundred non-resident hunters and anglers.
For those who didn’t receive a phone call and didn’t attend a public meeting, there’s also a website designed to gather even more input. The site, www.wildlifeforum.org, will be active until June.
“We want to hear from everybody,” Beppler said.
According to the firm’s preliminary results, almost half of Wyoming residents have hunted or fished sometime in the last five years.
“Wyoming has an incredibly high level of participation,” Beppler said.
Most respondents said they were familiar with the mission of Game and Fish and satisfied with its work managing and conserving fish and wildlife. They listed wolves, bears and aquatic invasive species as priority areas.
Respondents also wanted elected officials to pursue new funding streams for the department. Currently, the department is funded by licenses, fees and some taxes. In 2017, the Wyoming Legislature cut almost $10 million in biennial funding used to support several non-hunting programs such as sage grouse management.
Those who attended the Laramie meeting were generally supportive of the department’s efforts while commenting about a variety of issues. Many in the audience asked Game and Fish to do more to protect the state’s big game migration routes and 800 non-game species.
Chamois Andersen, who represents Defenders of Wildlife, said she hoped to see non-game species — among them the black-footed ferret and Wyoming toad — occupy a priority position in the new planning document.
“There are numerous animals that have data gaps, where research is needed,” she said. “That takes money.”
Shaleas Harrison, who works for Wyoming Wilderness Association, asked the department to consider ways to protect migration corridors around the state, including in southeast Wyoming.
“They don’t exist anywhere else in the country and rarely in the world, and I’d like to see them continue to exist,” she said.
Game and Fish undertook a similar strategic effort about 20 years ago, when public input spurred creation of the Access Yes program, where the department works with landowners to facilitate access for hunting and fishing. The department also created an arm devoted to information and education to improve outreach.
Development of the new strategic plan is expected to begin this spring with help from a natural resource planning firm based in Olympia, Washington, called The Cooperation Company.