For the week of February 17, 1999  thru February 23, 1999  

End the assault and battery

The Idaho Legislature is committing assault and battery on the Department of Fish and Game. It should quit throwing punches long enough to think about the long-term consequences of its behavior.

Legislators rejected a long overdue hunting and fishing license fee increase that would have generated more money for the strapped department. If that weren’t bad enough, neither the governor nor legislators have been inclined to support the department with any public funds.

Many Idahoans don’t know that the Department of Fish and Game is supported primarily by the sales of hunting and fishing licenses. It also receives some revenue from a federal tax on fishing and hunting equipment.

Many people think Fish and Game is just another state department. It’s not. It is anything but the standard cookie-cutter state agency.

It was created by initiative, which made it relatively independent. That irritated the hell out of the Idaho establishment and the irritation continues to this day.

The department is charged with the welfare of the state’s wildlife. It has an extraordinary level of independence relative to other state agencies, even though the Legislature controls its budget.

In the past few years, ranchers, farmers, out-of-work loggers and miners needed someone to blame for low prices, the disappearance of trees and the dearth of places to dig. Fish and Game, populated by defenders of fur and fin, was the obvious choice.

Their bitterness engulfed the Legislature. Instead of helping with the department’s very real funding needs, the Legislature had made the department the punching bag for its frustrations about wolves, grizzly bears and salmon—even though all are managed by the federal government because they are endangered.

The Legislature is picking on Fish and Game because it is a lot easier to huff and puff about how many miles are on F&G trucks than it is to tell the Port of Lewiston that it might be more cost effective over the long run to dispense with the port, take out a couple of relatively useless dams and recover the state’s salmon runs.

The Legislature’s refusal to approve common-sense license increases was just another episode of the ongoing legislative assault and battery. Its refusal to explore funding from other than the hook-and-bullet crowd was round two.

As a result, good people are leaving the department. Wildlife managers cannot manage. Morale is at an all-time low.

Idahoans who appreciate wildlife are going to be shocked when they experience the effects of the cuts that are coming: fewer fish and fewer game animals.

Poor funding will produce poor management. Without good management, Idaho could become a state in which wildlife disappears, wiped out by the pressures of industrialization and suburban sprawl.

That must not happen. Idahoans treasure wildlife. Legislators should end the assault and battery and find ways to shore up the Department of Fish and Game, heal its wounds and keep wildlife healthy.


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