By JEFF GEARINO
Star-Tribune staff writer Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Wyoming and other Western states will be able to continue limiting nonresident hunting and fishing licenses under a bill passed Tuesday by Congress.
A supplemental appropriations bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday includes an amendment that will protect the traditional authority of states to regulate hunting and fishing, said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who cosponsored the bill.
The bill allows states including Wyoming to continue distinguishing between residents and nonresidents when issuing hunting and fishing licenses.
"Wildlife is one of Wyoming's most important assets, and this bill reaffirms that Wyoming citizens, who bear most of the costs associated with managing wildlife, will remain in control," Enzi said in a statement.
The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials have been following the bill closely and said the law will help preserve the state's right to regulate hunting within its borders. Game and Fish directors could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
The agency has long held that Wyoming's limitation on percentages of licenses allocated to residents and nonresidents — and the cost differential between the two — is the state's prerogative and not a violation of interstate commerce or equal protection clauses.
Many of the Game and Fish big game license allocations are set by the Legislature through state statutes. For example, the 20 percent of deer and antelope licenses and the 25 percent of bighorn sheep licenses going to nonresidents each year are statutory. Other license allocations are done by Game and Fish Commission regulations.
Enzi's measure was prompted by a 2002 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling said that Arizona's law allotting just 10 percent of bull elk and antlered deer hunting tags to nonresidents was an act of "overt discrimination."
"The people of Wyoming know how to manage the wildlife in our state better than the 9th Circuit Court or the federal government," Enzi said. "This bill makes sure that Wyoming citizens, who have the most pride in area wildlife, are the people in charge."
Enzi said on Tuesday, the Senate passed the supplemental appropriations bill conference report accompanying H.R. 1268 by a vote of 100-0. The House passed the conference report May 5 by a vote of 368-58.
He said language in a previous Enzi cosponsored bill, which would keep control of hunting and fishing regulations out of the hands of the federal government, was included in the supplemental bill passed Tuesday.
In the meantime, Game and Fish officials are waiting on a ruling in another case that also challenges the state's requirements on nonresident hunters. That case is now before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit was brought by former Wyoming resident Donald J. Schutz, a Florida attorney who at one time attended Laramie High School and the University of Wyoming. Schutz's lawsuit alleges that the state's licensing system violates equal protection laws and that the guide requirements for hunting in Wyoming wilderness areas is unconstitutional.
Wyoming won a similar court case and appeal in 2000 in a lawsuit that was filed by the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association in 1998. Wyoming outfitters had long complained before the suit that the limited number of hunting licenses available to hunters from other states hurt the state's outfitters and guides and prevented them from making as much money as they could on hunting revenues.