While the budget news for sportsmen could have been worse, the reality of losing up to a half-dozen Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) is starting to sink in, and rumors of which WMAs will close are spreading through local communities.
Dan Forster, director of the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD), said he could not yet identify which areas will be closing until after WRD gets a ruling from the governor’s office about language in the budget legislation.
Much of the focus has been on WMAs that are on federal land. In the mountains, the threat of WMAs on national-forest land being taken out of the WMA system is not sitting well. Any WMAs closed on national-forest land will remain open to season-wide hunting, but sportsmen point to a loss of quality without managed hunts and habitat improvement provided for decades by WRD.
“On the WMAs, there are two cuts, 2009 and 2010,” said Forster. “The 2009 cuts are $391,403, and essentially we’re contributing to that with vacancies across the division. We’ve saved personnel costs by deferring hires. Had we not done that, it would be fairly disastrous.”
Forster said the good news in 2010 for WMAs is the cut in its final form ($170,537) was much less than the previous numbers.
“The challenge is there is some guiding language associated with those cuts, and we are trying to get a ruling from the budget office of the governor to find out what the parameters are,” said Forster. “Those (cuts) will come into affect in July. It will likely be a combination of federal areas and leased areas, but at a much, much less impact than some of the earlier versions that had it north of $400,000 in WMA cuts.”
Forster said WRD will consider not renewing leases on WMAs instead of making all the WMA cuts to areas on federal land.
“Some leased lands might have less impact on sportsmen than cutting federal areas,” Forster said. “As opposed to impacting 16 or a greater number of WMAs to affect that dollar figure (by only cutting from WMAs on federal land), we’re probably looking at something less than half a dozen, and hopefully less than that. The cost saving on the federal areas is essentially personnel cost and a little bit of operating money, and on the federal areas, roughly 60 percent of their salaries and operations come from Pittman-Robertson funds, so the state savings is only 40 percent of that.
“We’ll continue to look at the leased areas in a very business-like fashion and compare that with areas of the state we’ve acquired recently, so that we can soften the impact across the spectrum. With federal areas we’ll look at minimizing the impact by looking at a combination of use, participation and what our opportunities are, and overall staff distribution. I hope we can come out with some type of list in the coming weeks, but it’s going to depend on the guidance we get from (the governor’s budget office) in terms of flexibility in terms of how we can affect that.”
In other legislative action, HB 326 passed the House and Senate and is awaiting signature by the governor. HB 326 raises non-resident hunting and fishing licenses and repeals a sunset provision promised to sportsmen when they agreed to fund the Preservation 2000 land-acquisition program. In 2012, our license fees were supposed to go down after sportsmen paid for the land bought during the program.