Rethinking Wildlife Management

There are three main groups interested in the welfare and control of wildlife. Firstly, there are those who like to hunt and fish. These are the sportsmen. The more animals there are to hunt and the more fish there are to fish the happier this group is. If they could, they would hunt and fish year round.

Then there are the wildlife activists. This group is also happiest when there is an abundant population of wild animals, and the streams are full of fish. They would have the land covered with wildlife with little or no control. They believe the best population control is natural predation, i.e., wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, and bears.

Finally, there are the farmers and ranchers who enjoy wildlife, but see them as a nuisance. Animals eat their crops and attract the public who trespass upon their land. Many of this group would just as soon see them gone or at least significantly reduced.

To keep all of these groups happy, the state organized the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The role of this department is to find an acceptable balance of animal numbers and maintain that number through population control. The numbers are determined through wildlife population studies and controlled by predators and hunters.

Where the game lives depends on their survival or demise. Elk that inhabited the high desert near the INEEL were in the wrong place politically. The entire herd was destroyed. Other herds have been significantly reduced because of the damage they have done to farmers, ranchers, and other private property owners. Herd populations have also been reduced to prevent the spread of disease such as Brucellosis. Feed grounds are believed to be a means of spreading disease and have been discouraged as an unnatural attempt to manage the game. Herds that exist in wolf and grizzly bear recovery areas are seen as food for the endangered species recovery.

Political and economic constraints exerted upon the Fish and Game Department have limited predator control, resulting in a thriving population of coyotes, cougars, bear, and wolves. Pressure from land owners have severely impeded population growths by demanding depredation hunts. Disease issues have eliminated survival practices such as feeding refuges that would augment the survival and increase of herds. As well, because Fish and Game is funded strictly by revenues it generates, out-of-state hunters are highly solicited.

To generate sufficient monies to maintain the Fish and Game agency, they must sell a certain number of tags and licenses. To sell tags and licenses, they must maintain certain numbers of animals and fish. The problem that has developed, because of all of the pressures on wildlife survival, is that there is not enough game to satisfy both in-state and out-of-state hunters and predators. This has resulted in plummeting numbers of out-of-state hunters. Last year alone, some 1700 reserved out-of-state hunting tags were NOT sold. This has left the Fish and Game Department scrambling for answers and income.

This decline in out-of-state hunters has been happening for several years. Part of the problem exists in the short and untimely seasons. This lowers hunter success in an attempt to preserve and restore game numbers. The consequence of this management strategy is hunter discontent.

One attempt to restore numbers has been to increase predator control. The infamous trapper, John Graham from Montana, was solicited by Roy Moulton for this purpose. We all know the heat Roy has taken from this action. In my conversations with Roy and John, effective predator control has significantly restored game numbers in Montana in areas where few other reasons can be considered. Why Idaho is resisting this effort is beyond me. We can have predators or we can have big game – but we can’t have significant numbers of both. Game numbers should increase with increases in predator control. However, predator control is not the only answer. The real solution to the problem is much deeper and goes back to the beginning.

The founding fathers never intended for government to engage in business. Nor did they intend on its interference. Government was set up to protect our rights to life, liberty, and personal property. Many of the problems we are experiencing in our society today is because of government interference we call ‘oversight.’ Oversight is one thing; out right business is another.

Who could argue that the Department of Fish and Game is not a business? They manage a commodity, wildlife, to earn monies to fund themselves. Are they any different from any other business who competes for survival? They should be protecting our state rights to hunt and fish, not selling them for money so that they can justify their existence.

Is it wrong to have such agencies fund themselves? Yes, it is! Should we collect more taxes to fund them? No. Then what are we to do? We dissolve them! That’s right; we scrap the Fish and Game as we know it! This agency is not needed. They never should have existed from the beginning! I know of no other agency more controversial in the United States. Before the Fish and Game Department was organized there was abundant fish and game for all. Big bulls and big bucks were the norm in my father and grandfather’s day. Now we’re hard- pressed to find either.

Who then will take care of the balancing of the wildlife and the satisfying of the three groups of people? The people! Government is best at its closest level. A firm principle in the proper role of government as explained by Ezra Taft Benson in 1968, is “never ask a larger group to do that which can be done by a smaller group. The smaller the unit and the closer it is to the people, the easier it is to guide, to correct, to keep it solvent, and to keep our freedom.”

This was the intent of the Constitution. The federal government was limited to only twenty things. The rest was the responsibility of the states. The same goes for the state as a whole. Not everything in Idaho needs to be governed from Boise. Bring what we can back to the people at its closest level.

Wildlife management is a regional issue. Wildlife districts governed by people who live in those districts will provide the best government. Let the people decide on predator control, feed grounds, the price to charge out-of-state hunters, and so on. Regional or district wildlife commissions could be set up from amongst the local people. The county sheriff’s office could enforce the fish and game laws. A professional consultant could be hired to help the local people manage the fish and game. Fees could be established by the district commissions on how much in-district, out-of-district, and out-of-state hunters pay. (For people that have resided in a particular district for twenty years, I think they have earned the ‘right’ to hunt and fish for free.)

To encourage land owner cooperation and conservation efforts to promote more game, a significant land access fee should be charged to hunters that wish to hunt on private ground. This will compensate the land owners for their crop damage and hunter management time. Soon land owners would realize the potential profits and would work hard to manage for more and bigger trophy animals. This has become a successful $1.5 billion business in Texas.

The idea needs more work, but the concept is sound – let local districts made up of people who know the area and the game, manage their own wildlife resources. In fact, let them manage all their natural resources – water and forests included. Bring government back to the closest level at which it can manage. Think of the potential this plan has for southeastern Idaho alone. Wildlife resources managed correctly could bring significant financial rewards to the county residents. Ideally, the day will return when there is abundant wildlife and other natural resources for all Idaho residents.

If you would like to help with this reform movement please call me at 356-3690. It is my intention to draft legislation for the 2003 session. It is time to take back Idaho!

By Rex Rammell