The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) refunded $585,000 worth of licenses, permits, and stamps so far to residents and non-residents who were unable to hunt, fish, or boat in 2020. That's more than double its previous record year for refunds in 2019.
Sara DiRienzo, WGFD public information officer, says the pandemic and Mullen fire were the two main causes for the increase.
The department says it's still working through refund requests, after receiving 1,700 applications to the license review board. It's not free to process those refunds and DiRienzo said, typically, the department takes a look at circumstances and decides if they can make the refund at all. This year, though, was different.
"We went above and beyond as a department because we felt like that was the right thing to do. We wanted to help our state because we did want to limit the number of people who were traveling due to COVID-19," she said.
DiRienzo said the amount of refunds was certainly significant, but she doesn't see it having an impact on the budget.
"What essentially it means is that this year, there's just less money available that are going on the ground for projects like managing wildlife and habitat," she said.
DiRienzo said the refunds don't mean there wasn't a lot of hunting in Wyoming though. The number of new non-residents hunting and fishing did go down in 2020, but residents who had already held licenses in the past participated even more, according to purchase data.
"For example, if someone usually bought one deer license... lots of those folks maybe bought an additional one or a doe-fawn license to go with their buck pronghorns… people crave getting a little bit more out of the outdoors who already were planning to do so," she said.
DiRienzo said it's hard to say whether the department will see a bounce-back in revenue this year. It will depend on drought conditions over the summer and whether there's enough moisture for favorable habitat conditions. That could lead to an increase in licenses with more wildlife around.