Conservation Wildlife Management

Lawmaker Proposes ‘All-You-Can-Kill’ Elk Permits for Wyoming Ranchers

The proposal would allow a private landowner dealing with overpopulated herds to purchase a $20 tag and take an unlimited number of cow elk
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wyoming proposal unlimited elk permits for ranchers
Large elk herds have become a problem for many private landowners in the West. John Morrison / Getty

Wyoming legislators and wildlife managers convened at the University of Wyoming Tuesday to discuss ways to manage the overpopulated elk herds found in certain parts of the state. A potential solution proposed by one legislator would be to issue “all-you-can-kill” elk permits for ranchers, according to Cowboy State Daily. The proposal elicited backlash from some hunters, many of whom hunt public land and have long criticized the state’s handling of private-land elk management.

Rep. Bill Allemand (R-Midwest) floated the idea during the meeting, which brought together members of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee. Allemand, who represents District 58, said these unlimited take permits would help alleviate the burden that overabundant elk herds are having on ranchers—particularly those in the southeast corner of the state.

Under Allemand’s proposal, these permits would cost $20 apiece. A landowner could then use that permit to kill as many elk as they’d like, or they could hand the permit off to someone else. The permits would be valid from Aug. 1 until April 1 of the following year.

“This our last chance to help these people in these areas,” Alemand said during the meeting, according to CSD. “They haven’t been helped in 30 years.”

At this point, however, Allemand’s proposal is just that. The legislator from Natrona County tried introducing the permit program as an amendment to another bill being considered by the committee, and then as a stand-alone bill. Both attempts failed.

Wyoming’s overabundance of elk on private land has long been a topic of discussion among wildlife managers. It’s a real problem in Albany and Laramie Counties, where thousands of elk migrate onto ranches to graze during the fall and winter. These large herds compete with cattle for grass and hay, which leads ranchers to seek reimbursement from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. In some years, individual landowners have received more than $70,000 from the agency to cover costs and replace lost revenue, WyoFile reports.

Allemand’s proposal would certainly help tamp down on elk numbers. It’s also been criticized by many hunters in the state. They say it would give preferential treatment to landowners—some of whom have helped create the very problem this proposal claims it would solve. These hunters point out that there are plenty of people who would love the opportunity to hunt elk on private land, but that many landowners have chosen instead to charge exorbitant trespass fees or work exclusively with outfitters.

“Hunter Management Areas, Landowner Assistance Programs, Walk-In Areas, social media, word of mouth,” one user wrote in a HuntTalk forum. “There are plenty of hunters willing to help kill these elk, but if landowners don’t want to participate … I don’t think it’s right to give them preferential treatment and come up with an entire special program for them.”

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Allemand initially suggested that ranchers would be able to sell their unlimited take permits if they wanted to, but WGFD chief game warden Rick King nipped this idea in the bud, according to CSD. King argued that this would only incentivize landowners to keep elk populations high and create an even bigger market for high-dollar hunts. Allemand then agreed to change the language in his proposal to allow landowners to give these permits away but not sell them.

The legislator also told Cowboy State Daily that if he did try to introduce his proposal as a stand-alone bill during the 2024 legislative session, he would make the permits valid for cow elk only. His proposal would also require that any elk killed using these permits would have to be processed and not wasted. He added, however, that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll move forward with the proposal next year.