By Floyd Whiting
Via Wyoming News Exchange
BUFFALO — An amendment to increase funds to $400,000 annually for predator control across the state failed in the Senate last week, a move that has ranchers worried.
The timing couldn't have been worse, according to Peter John Camino, a third-generation sheep rancher in Johnson County. Camino, who is president of the Johnson County Predator Control Board, said the local coyote population has increased over the last year.
“It was pretty devastating blow,” Camino said. "We probably won't see any of that money. We will probably just go off what our budgets were last year.”
Funding for the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board, which allocates funds to counties across the state, was cut by more than $1 million last year, which led to trappers being laid off, and some boards had to decide whether
to trap predators or perform aerial predatory animal control from helicopters, according to Wyoming Wool Growers Association President Amy Hendrickson.
Since that time, Gov. Mark Gordon took office and increased funding for the board within his proposed budget, Hendrickson said.
During a meeting with Gordon, the ADMB asked for a $500,000 increase to their yearly budget, $1 million for the biennium.
Gordon ultimately asked for a $400,000 yearly increase, which would put the board within reach of the funding level it had before the budget cuts.
According to Hendrickson, Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, made a request to Gordon to set aside $50,000 to be usedspecifically for wolf predation management. As the appropriation moved to the Joint Appropriations Committee, funding was reduced to $200,000 with an additional $50,000 set aside for wolf predation management.
The ADMB received more support from both Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, and Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas.
Kinskey said he understands the need for predator control boards and feels that predators are hurting producers and wildlife.
“The program has sustained many cuts over the past several years and the increase, if adopted, would still leave the program well below where it was,” Kinskey said. “But we didn't have the votes to hold it. There was a motion in Joint Appropriations to reduce it to $200,000 per year, $400,000 for the biennium and add $50,000 for wolf predation management. And an amendment to increase it back narrowly failed in the Senate.”
In the House, Rep. Richard Tass, R-Buffalo, drafted another amendment to the bill. Feeling that increased funding to the ADMB could have a positive effect on the sage-grouse population, Tass drafted the amendment but ultimately chose not to carry it to the floor. Tass said doing so would have been hypocritical, citing his voting history of cutting funds for other programs throughout the state.
“We thought we could do something for the sage grouse and decided that wouldn't be the proper way to do it, particularly after the way we've been voting against all other tax increases,” Tass said.
Tass said he was unaware that the amendment was being debated in the Senate.
“Nobody said anything to me that this was going on,” Tass said. “None of the wool growers or anybody up in Johnson County mentioned anything to me about this project or predatory boards.”
Camino was disappointed with the results.
"If he didn't want to go forward with that bill, he could have said something and we could have found someone else to do it,” Camino said. “But he could have voted it out on the floor, but he wouldn't even read it.”
Johnson County's predator control board has been able to function throughout the budget cuts, but only barely, Camino said.
The Johnson County Predator Board's budget for fiscal 2018 was $305,000, according to Dave Hall, the board's treasurer. Camino said that wouldn't change now that only $200,000 will likely be budgeted and other counties haven't fared as well as Johnson County.
“Now there are some counties that are really hard up for money, they are about to go broke," Camino said. "I'm assuming those boards will probably receive that money so they can keep their programs going.”
As for the coming year. Camino said he's confident Johnson County will be able to make it one more year but next year may be a different story.
"We can't do much more of this,” Camino said.