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Wildlife Trust Fund

WRA Helps pass Landmark Wildlife Legislation

by Steff Kessler

In January, Wind River Alliance staff traveled to Cheyenne to help create a better future for wildlife in the Wind River watershed and across Wyoming. WRA Acting Executive Director Richard Baldes traveled to Cheyenne for a Sportsman’s Lobby Day to urge legislators to support establishment of the Wyoming Wildlife Trust Fund. The lobby days were successful in showing legislators that creation of the $200 million special fund to protect, restore and enhance wildlife and fisheries habitat had tremendous citizen support.

“I learned how to get in there and talk effectively with our legislators,” stated Baldes. “It’s amazing how easy it is to have access to these elected officials. WRA has learned how to work in Cheyenne and we will be here every year to make sure that Tribal and watershed issues are addressed.” Wind River area legislators Senator Cale Case and Representative Patrick Goggles were supportive of the Wildlife Trust Fund bill, and helped the voices of Wind River citizens be heard.

Wind River Alliance provided written and verbal testimony before the House Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee during its hearing on the bill in February. Here’s part of what we said:

“The Wind River Alliance is a cross-cultural, community- based, nonprofit organization headquartered on the Wind River Indian Reservation, in Ethete. Our mission is to promote the health of the Wind River watershed. Wind River Alliance supports SF 41, the Wildlife and Natural Resources Funding Act. This bill will help to further restoration of important habitat so that it can become productive again for wildlife and also benefit local communities. When we have healthy habitat and wildlife populations, the people and communities also benefit. This bill invests in the future of our state and its people. We see it as a win-win for everyone.”

In March, Governor Dave Freudenthal signed the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Funding Act into law. The new law creates up to $200 million in a special fund that will be awarded in grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations. The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes will be eligible to receive these grants, as well as nonprofits such as Wind River Alliance. The Wyoming Wildlife Trust Fund is the only fund of its kind in the nation that is devoted almost exclusively to wildlife habitat protection, and is funded through State general fund dollars.

Original legislation excluded participation by Tribes and nonprofits
The Wildlife Trust bill, which eventually became SF 41 in the 2005 legislation session, began in 2004 as a draft from the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association and other groups. The original language restricted funding to fewer than ten State agencies, most of these involved in agriculture. The original version would not have allowed any funds to go to nonprofit organizations or to Tribal governments, unless “sponsored” by one of the State agencies. Many people felt that this gave second-class status to the very groups and agencies that already do significant work for the protection and restoration of wildlife habitat. Heavy lobbying in the fall and the leadership of Governor Freudenthal helped delete this restriction, so that grants can now go to “nonprofits and governmental organizations.” This broad definition ensures that Tribal entities are eligible for funding. The presence of Rep. Patrick Goggles, a Northern Arapaho, in his first session at the legislature, helped to make the legislation as strong as possible.

WRA presence in Cheyenne benefits rivers, wildlife and people
The Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Funding Act was a successful effort for WRA and many other constituencies and groups in Wyoming. Sportsmen, the tourism industry, ranchers, labor unions and conservation groups worked to pass this bill. WRA ensured that Tribal concerns were represented. Rules are now being developed to define how grants will be awarded, and it is expected that funding will become available in 2006. The draft rules are available for public review and comment until August 31st. Contact the WRA staff if you’d like more information about the Wildlife Trust Fund and these proposed rules.