Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk is questioning Wyoming’s joint resolution seeking a “conservation fee” on visitors to the park.
According to the Powell Tribune, Wenk commented on the measure at a meeting in Cody.
“I’ve read it a few times,” Wenk told the Tribune. “I just don’t know what it means yet. I have no idea what they’re hoping to achieve.”
Earlier this year, the Wyoming Legislature proposed instituting a fee on Yellowstone visitors, which would go toward wildlife programs like habitat maintenance, disease control, and conflict mitigation. The fee would reportedly supplement funds gleaned from licenses, stamps, permits, fees, and other revenue streams that go toward the state’s Game and Fish Department.
According to the Tribune, the resolution also calls for conservation revenue to be split with Montana and Idaho.
The measure gained bipartisan support in both the Wyoming House and Senate and was signed by Governor Matt Mead last month. Organizations like the Wyoming Outfitters Association and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition have also voiced support for the proposed fee.
However, since Yellowstone is a national park, Wyoming has no authority to impose a fee on visitors. To that end, Wyoming legislators have said the resolution is meant to start a conversation. So far, however, Wenk is dubious. From the Tribune:
“Are they going to put the [proposed fees] to non-consumptive uses? They’re looking for non-consumptive user money, but where would the money be directed to if they ever negotiate this? Would it be to support grizzly bear hunts?” he asked. “I don’t know if this is money that would go to the Department of Transportation, Game and Fish — the resolution doesn’t specify. If it’s collecting money from non-consumptive users, I would certainly hope it would be spent on non-consumptive uses.”
He also noted that Yellowstone already collects close to $10 million in sales and gas taxes for Wyoming.
“Right now, none of that money is returned within the boundaries of the park. It’s all used for purposes outside the park,” Wenk said. “Seems like a great place to look for funds for some of the things they want to do.”
Wenk told the Tribune he would be happy to have a conversation on the proposed fee.
In addition to Wyoming’s proposed conservation fee, Wenk also discussed the Interior Department’s proposed measure to raise entrance fees at 17 national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
The department has backed off its initial proposal, which would have seen prices more than double for seven-day entrance passes (raising the cost for cars from $30 to $70), but will raise fees by $5 at all 117 fee-collecting national parks starting June 1, 2018.
Wenk added at the meeting that he would not encourage any fee increases right now, arguing that it would deter visitors, which would drive revenue down. At the time, Wenk said he had not heard anything definitive about the Interior dropping its $70 fee proposal.