Public Lands & Waters photo

What does $10,000 get you in Wyoming? It gets you roughly 40,000 acres of prime hunting and fishing grounds through the state’s Private Lands/Public Wildlife Access Program for everyone to enjoy.

The bad news is, funding for the state-sponsored access program has been drying up. The good news is that for a second year in a row, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has made a five-figure donation to help ensure access for residents and non-residents alike. The group, comprised of individuals and groups committed to things like free access, walk-in hunting, and wildlife-habitat security, donated $10,000 to the program this month.

That’s a darned good use of dollars, if you ask me. Wyoming’s access program has been widely praised as one of the best of its kind, not only for providing hunter access, but for private landowners looking to manage wildlife on their property in a manner that doesn’t conflict with their livestock or crop operation.

To date, there are about 700,000 acres of private land enrolled in various Private Lands/ Public Wildlife programs in Wyoming. That’s less than what other states are doing, but as Wyoming Game and Fish often says, they want quality acres enrolled in the program, not just quantity.

The program itself is funded through donations and some license money. But this year, the Wyoming Legislature unilaterally mandated a budget cut rather than approve a new license fee increase, and the access program lost a huge chunk of its funding.

The reason the program lost financial support is that the Wyoming Legislature re-prioritized its funding calculus, and neither sportsmen’s access nor wildlife management ranked very high in the new priorities.

Although access is not an issue that Wyoming’s politicians feel they need to fund, landowners are routinely paid for crop damage with public funds. That’s the crux of the issue really: access and the ability to successfully manage wildlife. The Cowboy State does so many things right when it comes to wildlife, but letting politics meddle in wildlife management isn’t one of them. Hunting and angling access suffers because of it.

The TRCP’s donation was designed to fill in a little of what was taken away from the access program’s budget, but it’s hardly enough to make up for license fees and other public moneys that previously funded the program.

I can only hope that Wyoming lawmakers didn’t understand what they were doing when they cut the wildly popular and successful program.

Access is one of the biggest issues hunters and anglers face in today’s world. Losing access for the sake of political gamesmanship isn’t something the hunting community should take lightly. It steals opportunity for the resident working his 50 hours a week, but as we’ve said here previously, it’s also bad business. Loss of access means fewer hunters and anglers staying in hotels and spending their money in communities who rely on the revenue that the outdoor industry generates. That’s especially true in Wyoming, where every small town rolls out a “Welcome Hunter” banner.

In this day, when so many folks want something for themselves, it’s great to see groups like the TRCP put their money where their cause is. Let’s hope public officials pay attention and reorder their own funding priorities.