BOISE, Idaho -- Hunters concerned that game animals may be evolving from a public resource to a private commodity are nervously watching a pair of bills in the Idaho Legislature.
One would allow landowners to sell special tags they receive from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and another would greatly increase the number of trophy tags auctioned to the highest bidder.
Senate Bill 1282, sponsored by Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, would allow private landowners to receive and sell "special incentive tags" for deer, elk and antelope if they first negotiate public access agreements with the department. The bill languished in the Senate Resources and Environment Committee for weeks but was given new life when a similar piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, died on the Senate floor. Brackett's bill is expected to face a final Senate vote next week.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission chose to support the bill even thought it formally opposed Siddoway's version. Commissioner Tony McDermott from Sagle sees the two bills as vastly different. He said Brackett's version gives control of the program to the commission, which can limit its scope. It also provides a benefit to all hunters by requiring landowners to negotiate public access agreements in order to sell their tags. Siddoway's bill simply legalized the sale of existing Landowner Appreciation Tags.
"It (Brackett's bill) was done through the department in exchange for access, the department and commission were going to be totally involved," said McDermott. "The Siddoway bill -- the department be damned."
Those concessions were not enough to convince many hunters that selling tags is a good idea. They point to one of the tenets of the North American model of wildlife management that says game is a public resource.
"I'm a free-market type of guy," said Pat Samsel of Lewiston. "I believe people with money should be able to buy just about anything they want to, but when it comes down to a public resource owned by all of us, I think the sale of that is reprehensible."
The Idaho Sportsmen's Caucus Advisory Council voted to oppose 1282 and 1283.
"We just don't believe in the sale of (Landowner Appreciation Program) tags," said Mark Bell, president of the council. "We did not put an asterisk behind and say except for this or that."
Pete Wittman, a farmer and landowner a few miles southeast of Lewiston, said private property owners are supporting the wildlife and that should make it a private resource.
"I don't see wildlife as a public resource, especially in the northern part of the state where we are in a private land base, as opposed to southern Idaho," he said. "I feel we are providing the habitat. We are having to deal with the access issues and the (hunting) pressure. We should be able to do whatever we want with these tags."
He and his family have been selling access to their property since 2007 and are pleased with the results. He said it's not a way to get rich but instead a way to cover some expenses.
A bill that gives the commission authority to establish as many as 12 trophy tags to be sold at auction has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House. It faced opposition from hunters who feel it favors wealthy hunters and who worry the program will grow over time. They often point to Utah where more than 300 trophy tags are auctioned each year.
"These bills put us on a path to eventually become like some of the other states where the only decent hunting is for the wealthy that can afford the tags," said Bob Jones of Lewiston.
Barker may be contacted at ebarkerlmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter ezebarker.
(c)2012 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
Visit the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) at www.lmtribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services