Hunting season to go on as normal, WGFD director says

Fall hunting seasons will go forward as planned without pandemic-related restrictions, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik.

Per Wyoming statute, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission retains authority to change rules on bag limits, hunting seasons and license allocations for any reason, including a public health emergency, Nesvik explained to the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee Friday.

“The next question I would assume some folks may have is, ‘Are there any discussions today about making modifications to hunting seasons based on the current pandemic?” And the answer to that question is very simply: No,” Nesvik said.

Temporary restrictions on nonresident five-day fishing licenses were lifted May 9 in an effort to curb the number of anglers coming into Wyoming, according to state Public Information Officer Sara DiRienzo.

Nesvik said a higher than normal number of people from Colorado and other states were coming to Wyoming to fish early in the spring, which increased close-quartered activity at public access fishing spots. License restrictions lifted in line with relaxed state lockdown protocols. As far as hunting, rules and season dates should remain as set in the spring.

Of the four pots of agency budgetary dollars the Commission oversees, WGFD plans to shrink its standard budget by 5-7% and one-time project budget by 15-20% in anticipation of unpredictable revenue situations and as good business practice, Nesvik said.

With unchanged hunting seasons still on the schedule for this fall, some turn to skilled hunters to help provide meat to others in need.

The Wyoming Hunger Initiative plans to launch the Food From the Field program this fall, as a cohesive statewide option for hunters to donate part or all of an animal and share it with community members through food banks, after passing through a participating meat processor.

Sheridan region PIO Christina Schmidt said the sign-up list of participating meat processors continues to grow and will be complete mid-August. Hunters may donate an animal through a processor directly — WGFD will not act as an intermediary for meat processing but will continue to take samples and test animals for chronic wasting disease, in line with the year-old CWD sampling plan to target specific herds and develop a prevalence estimate.

The Sheridan Food Group does not have a solidified plan for this component of the Wyoming Hunger Initiative but is not opposed to the idea, said Executive Director Keri McMeans.

For any meat intake through Food From the Field, The Food Group would likely work through Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies and/or a local U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved processor to ensure safety and quality, she said.

In their food boxes, The Food Group currently provides ground beef processed at Purcella’s Meat Processing in Buffalo — distributed through home delivery to quicken access to fresh or frozen food.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the group is now equipped to store meat with appropriate freezer space and proper refrigeration, McMeans said. Still, staff are taking “baby steps” in distribution to see what works best for families.

McMeans said she is willing and open to discussing how to connect with Wyoming First Lady Jennie Gordon’s hunger initiative to connect donated meat from hunters to families in need — a platform that aligns well with The Food Group platform.