Four Weeks Representing Wildlife, Hunters, and Anglers at the WY Legislature: Here’s what I’ve Learned

 By Jessi Johnson, Artemis Coordinator

Inaction is not an option. If we do not start showing up and speaking out, our losses are our own fault.

This week is the fourth and final week of the 20-day budget session for Wyoming’s Legislature. It is a quick, dirty, and often chaotic process. Our 60 representatives and 30 senators are tasked with a herculean task of sorting through 330 bills in four weeks and end up passing only a small fraction.

What I have observed is this: We the people still have the power, and our biggest enemy is indifference of the common citizen. When people show up, write in, call in, things change; when they don’t, bad bills squeak through and good bills die quiet low-profile deaths. So how do we as hunters and anglers make sure we keep up?

My work with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and the sportswomen’s group Artemis led me to organize a day for hunters and anglers at the Wyoming statehouse. “Camo at the Capitol” was born of the need for wildlife, hunting, and angling issues to be highlighted and prioritized in the minds of the legislators.

This event started with a short lobbying and legislative training to make sure each participant understands process and protocol around s
pending a day at the legislature. A working lunch with guest speakers highlighted the way the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Governor’s office work at the legislature, and their influence.  This brought to light the need for citizens to take the wheel and drive the momentum behind good legislation and hit the brakes on bad legislation.  The afternoon was dedicated to spending time in session. Having hunters dressed in camo, armed with personal stories and vested interest, and spending the day speaking to their representatives and senators about bills affecting was powerful.

We decided to focus on two bills: one with negative impacts on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department; and one that helps generate funding for wildlife crossings and collision issues. They were, HB20, Game and Fish Agreements with Federal Agencies, and HB39 the Wyoming Conservation License Plate. Both bills were slated for “General File”, or initial consideration, the following day, which presented a perfect opportunity to let participants lobby their representatives.

Spending the afternoon taking 12 camo-clad hunters and anglers around the Capitol was inspiring and fun. It created a stir in legislature and both the House and Senate stood to acknowledge the wildlife advocates in their midst. What followed the next day was even better. HB39 sailed through the first reading, (not something most license plate bills do in Wyoming) and HB20, the bill we opposed, was “postponed indefinitely”. The success was due in large part to the work of the 12 Wyoming hunters who traveled across the state to participate at their legislature.

Camo at the Capitol concluded with attending the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance’s Legislative Reception. It was a party at the Botanic Gardens in Cheyenne that featured invitations for all Legislators, eight sporting groups, a game meat menu and a live recording of the Right to Roam podcast. It was an important wrap-up to the day, highlighting the work done by the participants and other advocates, and the importance of hunters and anglers to wildlife and wild land issues.

As I wrap up the fourth week of legislature, I am reflecting on the lasting impact the hunters had and imagining the power of even a larger group.  I have spent three weeks tracking 20 of the 330 bills –roughly six percent of the total bills — that pertain to wildlife, public lands, and all things hunting and angling.

The Wyoming Wildlife Federation and Artemis have been able to help kill 100 percent of the bad bills we were tracking and pass a good portion (some are still going) of the positive bills. We have done this with the help of hunters and anglers around the state. Some wrote letters, some called in, others showed up in person. Each of these actions had a measurable impact that  culminated in putting wildlife back on the legislative landscape.

Action at whatever level you are able to participate is essential to a democratic system. Taking time to write or call in, making sure you are relaying not a canned email but a personal story, driving the sometimes eight hours (sorry Jackson people…Cheyenne is a harrowing trip in February to make) to show up in person to a committee meeting to speak for two minutes, or participating in trainings that give you the tools to be active in your legislature. These are the things that will preserve what we hold dear and change what needs updating.

I have fondly started calling this the burden of democracy. If we want a voice in our government we have to BE the voice. If we want change we have to ASK for it. If we are upset that we are not represented we must SHOW UP and represent ourselves. Inaction is not an option.  The participants of the inaugural Camo at the Capitol taught me this. A few passionate well-versed voices absolutely have the power to enact change.