Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Voters must decide elk-farm issue

     Once again, an issue that begged for courage and wisdom of the Idaho Legislature was ducked by lawmakers whose reasoning is poisoned by narrow special interests at a cost to the public good.

     So, voters may take matters into their hands and try to place an initiative vote on the 2008 election ballot to regulate or outright ban elk hunting ranches that raise the animals for meat or for killing inside enclosed corrals by wealthy hunters posing as “sportsmen.”

     The issue is not frivolous. Last August, 160 penned elk escaped from a so-called “shooter bull” operation in eastern Idaho, spreading fear that some of the animals may be diseased or genetic hybrids that could contaminate Idaho’s wild herds. Then-Gov. Jim Risch ordered an immediate shoot-to-kill hunt. Some 43 were killed; some were captured; others fled.

     Behind the proposed initiative, which would require about 60,000 signatures on petitions, are the Idaho Wildlife Federation and the Idaho Sportsmen’s Caucus Advisory Council, groups that know something of hunting and the peril of elk ranches.

     Despite the best efforts of sportsmen to persuade lawmakers of the need for tighter regulation of elk farms or banning the shooter bull outfits, elk ranchers used a wearisome old red herring to fend off legislative remedies—that their property rights were more important than reining in the threat of disease occurring in their herds.

     That’s a poor, if not groundless, argument. The possibility that diseased animals could cause an epidemic in wild elk herds as well as other animals is a far more compelling reason for action to shut down or rigorously regulate elk farms.

     Let the initiative proceed.

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