In the early to late 1800s the game slaughter was underway. Beaver, bison, bear, deer, antelope, sage-grouse and fish, to name a few, were all killed in countless numbers. All wildlife populations were declining. In an effort to stop the decline, the first territorial legislature created an “Act for Protection of Game and Fish” in the Territory of Wyoming in 1869. This ineffective law didn’t close any seasons and the decimation of wildlife continued.
By 1880, the first Wyoming Territorial Fish Commissioner was appointed and in 1884 the Territorial legislature passed a bill that supported the propagation and culture of fish in Wyoming Territory. At the time of appointment it was reported that the majority of streams were sterile of edible fish. The first fish hatchery began development on Soldier Spring near Laramie and a supply of fish was annually returned to Territorial waters.
Wyoming became a state in 1890 and in 1899 the legislature created the office of the State Game Warden. Over the next few decades the first State Game Wardens and Fish Wardens worked to slowly hammer out wildlife management policy and procedure that would become the beginning of modern management, benefiting wildlife and people alike.
In 1921 the Game and Fish Commission was created. Efforts to take game census were in full swing and for the first time, approximate numbers of wildlife were known. It wasn’t until 1929 that the legislature gave the Game and Fish Commission the ability to close hunting and fishing in an effort to restore fish and game to Wyoming after the days of early exploitation.
Over time, the Game and Fish worked to develop effective hunting and fishing seasons. They had to balance trophy hunting sportsmen with those who were hunting for food. A license structure was put into place. Hatcheries were built across the state and in the mid 1930s boasted of stocking more than 29 million fish in a two-year period.
By the time World War II arrived, wildlife populations had rebounded. There was a serious shortage of manpower within Game and Fish. Rationing due to the war began to affect things like gasoline and sporting cartridges and the game herds continued to expand. By the time servicemen returned to Wyoming, wildlife was abundant with generous bag limits in place. Funds collected from license sales were beginning to show surplus for Game and Fish.
In 1973 the Wyoming Game and Fish Department was created. Before this time, all Game and Fish personnel were employees of the Commission. The Commission became the decision making body appointed by the Governor to oversee the policies and decisions of the Game and Fish Department. This relationship between the Commission and Department still exists today, with seven Commissioners serving for six-year terms. Currently the Game and Fish Department employees over 350 personnel and are statutorily required to manage over 800 species of wildlife across Wyoming. In 1930, there were 86 moose taken in Wyoming, in 1961, there were 776. Though declines have occurred hunters continue to harvest just over 460. The same trend is followed for antelope, deer and elk. Populations will continue to rise and fall over the future of Wyoming, but one thing is certain, the Wyoming Game and Fish will continue to conserve wildlife and serve people.
Wyoming’s wealth of fish and wildlife is the result of sportsmen and women who have paid for it’s management through licenses fees since the creation of the Game and Fish Commission inception in 1921.
In 1921, the Game and Fish Commission was established to provide citizen oversight to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The Commission is made up of seven (7) officials, appointed by the Governor, who each represent a region in the state. One official is appointed from each region, and each region consists of approximately three (3) counties in Wyoming.
As with many wildlife agencies, hunters and anglers have traditionally provided nearly all the financial resources to support wildlife management, with 80% of our funds coming from license fees and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. The additional funds come from a variety of sources including stamps, fees and various grants.