Straight Talk From Steve: Game and Parks Director
February 16, 2023
State agencies are supposed to work for the State of Nebraska. State Senators represent the people of Nebraska because they are elected by the people of Nebraska. So, it is inappropriate for the director of any state agency to tell the Legislature what to do. Instead, it is the job of the Legislature to make the laws, and it is the job of each state agency to carry out those laws. That is, unless you work for the Game and Parks Commission.
Protocol for the director of any state agency is to testify in the neutral position on a bill. The director's job when testifying on a bill during a public hearing is not to sway the committee's opinion one way or the other, but to provide the committee with any relevant information they may need to make an informed decision.
Several bills were heard recently in the Unicameral Legislature which involved the Game and Parks Commission. So, when Tim McCoy, the director of the Game and Parks Commission, testified on Sen. Brewer's bill, LB 456, which reimburses landowners for damages done to property caused by wildlife, and when he testified on my bill, LB 397, to move the headquarters of the Game and Parks Commission to Sidney, he testified in opposition to these bills. It is not the director's job to tell the Legislature how to do their job.
Sen. Brewer's bill, LB 456, involves the distribution of money needed to pay for wildlife damages to crops and livestock. The bill has a cost of $9.3 million per year. I have a bill in the Appropriations Committee, LB 744, which takes $10 million from the Game and Parks Wildlife Conservation Fund to pay for these reimbursements so that there would be no extra cost to the State.
Western Nebraska has a lot to gain if the Game and Parks headquarters is moved to Sidney. For example, if only one quarter of the workforce currently employed by the Game and Parks Commission moves to Sidney, it would result in an additional economic advantage of 75 million dollars annually to that city's economy. Moreover, these kinds of government jobs bring long standing stability to a city's economy.
There is no good reason for a state agency, such as the Game and Parks Commission, to remain headquartered in the City of Lincoln. The headquarters for a state agency ought to be placed in a location that is relevant for the kind of work that it does. For example, the Oil and Gas Commission is headquartered in Sidney because that is where most of our oil fields are located. Similarly, the Game and Parks Commission should be located in Western Nebraska because that is where the antelope, big horn sheep, elk and mountain lions live.
Because so many state agencies are located in the City of Lincoln, it is fair to say that the City of Lincoln lives off of the tax dollars spent by folks living in the rest of the state. This problem is so bad that when you near the City of Lincoln while driving on I-80 and you roll down your window, you can smell the taxes.
The Game and Parks Commission completed a survey in 2002 in the Pine Ridge area and that report stated that 150 elk were present and living in that area. The report also said that 600 head of elk was the maximum head count that should ever be allowed. Knowing this, one would think that the Game and Parks Commission would continue monitoring the population of elk in order to control their numbers. Well, that was not the case. Today, the Game and Parks Commission does not know how many elk live in Nebraska. Instead, they have partnered with UNL to do another study which won't be completed until the year 2028! Wow!
Moving the headquarters of the Game and Parks Commission to Sidney would help those who work for the Commission to see and experience what it is like to live where the wildlife roam.