Dennis Sun: Out Here In The West, We Cannot Underestimate Importance Of Private Lands

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By Dennis Sun, Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Private lands are the most important part of the Western states. In some areas of the West, we are seeing an erosion of the rights of those private landowners. We see increased trespassing and federal legislation, regulations and policies infringing on private property rights such as endangered species, federal water claims, expansion of predatory species, excess populations of wildlife and generally less respect of those private lands.

In the last few years, we have seen many people move to our Western area looking to buy private land as their rights have eroded where they have lived. This large influx of people realize what we have in the West and wish to enjoy it also. They recognize the beauty of the land, the independence it allows and they want a place to watch and hunt wildlife.

In Wyoming, people know they can apply and will most likely receive a hunting license after their residence is proven.

These landowner hunting licenses are currently being discussed at Wyoming Wildlife Task Force meetings. Gov. Mark  Gordon initiated the task force last year to review and update the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) policies for the future years. The members of the task force are a good group of people with interests in wildlife, hunting and ranching, who are giving up a good deal of their time away from their businesses and private lives as they realize the importance of their task.

Earlier this week I attended the task force meeting in Casper as they discussed landowner licenses and the recommendations of the landowner licenses sub-committee. Hearing the discussion, I soon realized how complicated the issue of landowner licenses was. I was happy to hear the task force mentioned they wanted to start the discussion on the original intent of the WGFD Commissioners, when they developed the landowners license program to compensate landowners for the wildlife habitat they provided.

I think the original intent of this program has been lost and the program has been abused. I don’t apply any more as I don’t hunt, but would like a license to donate to a non-profit and get the tax write off or to sell to a qualified hunter.

Not far from the ranch, there is a development of small acre cabin lots where some owners have landowner licenses. Their small acreage usually has no wildlife on it, so they have to hunt elsewhere. I’ve found them trespassing on my land to hunt, as I provide adequate wildlife habitat on the ranch.

The sub-committee’s recommendations were numerous and it is a good start. They want to increase the minimum acreage required to either 320 or 1,281 acres to apply. They wanted to cap the number of licenses in certain areas, which will not fly out in the hills. They also want to make it so landowners could give a long-time ranch employee their landowner license. They recommended to have a separate minimum acreage requirement (160 acres) be applied to cultivated lands.

Working farms and ranches should have the priority in receiving landowner licenses. The initial intent was to compensate ranchers and farmers, not small recreational acreages people have bought, some just for the hunting licenses. They have no livestock and don’t use the resources other than for recreation or a cabin site. I also think the landowner compensation should be raised where it will be meaningful to the rancher and farmer. Some act like it is terrible to give ranchers and farmers anything, but alright to give a hunter whatever they want.

Ranchers and farmers are wildlife’s best friends, they need to be treated as such.

The Wyoming Livestock Roundup is a weekly agriculture newspaper available online and in print. To subscribe, visit wylr.net or call 80-967-1647.

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