Retired game warden Rep. Bill Haley, R-Centennial, is entering his second term this week, and his first general session following a full year of interim committee work.
Haley sits on both the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee and the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee. Between the two, the committees already have 11 active bills awaiting introduction.
One of those bills, sponsored by the travel committee, would significantly improve the odds of experienced hunters in drawing tags during the state’s annual hunting license lottery.
Under current regulations, each time a hunter unsuccessfully applies for a hard-to-draw license, he or she receives a “preference point,” improving the odds of drawing a tag for that species in subsequent years.
However, if a hunter fails to apply for a tag in a certain year, that hunter loses all accrued preference points and is considered a “first-year applicant” in the following year. The travel committee’s proposal, Senate File 3, would eliminate that rule, allowing hunters to keep their preference points even if they take a year off from applying.
“That’s a highly debated topic I’m already getting emails on,” Haley said.
The bill’s detractors argue it will make it harder for children to draw tags.
“I haven’t made up my mind on how I’ll vote,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a cut-and-dry issue.”
Haley does have at least two bills regarding wildlife that he’s individually sponsoring this session.
One bill, already docketed as House Bill 28, would give Wyoming Game and Fish greater regulatory power over antler collection.
Currently, the commission only has the power to regulate the collection of shed antlers west of the Continental Divide, and only January-April.
As other states have taken greater regulatory control of antler collection, Haley said his constituents requested the bill to combat the increase of out-of-staters coming to Wyoming to collect antler “harassing” wildlife
“It’s really a problem on the Snowy Range,” he said.
While that activity is most taxing on wildlife in the winter, Haley wanted to give the commission authority to regulate antler collection year-round in case the agency deems it necessary.
“I want them to have that flexibility so we won’t have to revisit this,” he said.
Haley also plans to bring a bill that would allow WGFD to issue free lifetime fishing licenses and conservation stamps to people who are physically or mentally challenged. He said he’s still in the process of selecting legislators to co-sponsor the proposal.
The agriculture committee is bringing a bill, one Haley supports, that would prevent a county from adopting “any ordinance, bylaw or other regulation relating to lawful fence requirements.”
Wyoming’s statutes provide designs for what constitutes a lawful fence, and the bill would target the additional fence rules created by Teton County.
Teton County has additional limits on the height of fences, a rule aimed at aiding wildlife migration. Legislators from that county were able to kill that proposal in the 2018 session, arguing the state’s preemption was an affront to the value of local control.
“That’s going to be part of the debate on the floor,” Haley said. “My feeling is that if you’re going to have a state law, it can’t be state law for 22 counties and not the 23rd.”
Haley said he plans to talk to the members of Management Council to discuss the possibility of creating a coalition to work on wildlife migration corridors.
He envisions that coalition as operating in a manner akin to the Sage Grouse Implementation Team, a governor-appointed group charged with crafting management practices to keep the bird from receiving protections under the Endangered Species Act.
The legislator said he also needs to consult with conservation groups and the state agency to determine if there’s interest for such a proposal.
“I might be the only one in the state who’s thinking about this right now,” he said.
Haley also expects the agriculture committee will introduce a bill to help compensate for the 2017 elimination of the state’s livestock inspectors, which put the onus on sheriffs to investigate cattle rustling.
“I really think that if we’re not going to have livestock investigators for the state board, the Legislature needs to figure out a funding mechanism,” Haley said.
That was an issue Albany County Sheriff David O’Malley urged action on last week at a meeting with his county’s legislative delegation. O’Malley said the elimination of livestock inspectors is overworking his deputies, who also don’t have the expertise to handle the issue.