Wednesday, March 4, 2009

F&G eyes changes to hunting regs

Agency will hold meeting in Hailey on March 9

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is seeking public comment on changes the agency is considering for hunting regulations in the mountains and deserts surrounding the Wood River Valley.

To gather input on the tentative changes—primarily to elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope hunts—Fish and Game officials from the agency's Magic Valley Region will host an open house in the valley next week.

The meeting will be held Monday, March 9, from 5:30-8 p.m. in rooms 201 and 202 at the Community Campus, 1050 Fox Acres Road in Hailey.

Fish and Game officials will explain the changes and why they're considering them during the open house. The department already held two similar public meetings this week in Burley and Jerome.

If approved, the new regulations would take effect this year.

Fish and Game officials stress that no decisions have been finalized and that they're seeking input from the public.

"For this coming fall, we are looking at several changes to help achieve population management objectives for deer, elk and pronghorn," the department's regional wildlife manager, Randy Smith, said in a prepared statement. "These meetings are a chance for us to get some feedback from hunters on the preliminary proposals, discuss issues and listen to new ideas."

Local Fish and Game officials are specifically considering the following:

· Capping the number of elk A tags in the Pioneer Zone. The Pioneer Zone covers big game units 36A, 49 and 50. Fish and Game is also considering changing this hunt from a spike-only season to a general antlerless muzzleloader hunt.

· Reducing the number of bull and cow elk tags available in the Smoky Mountains Zone, which covers big game units 43, 44 and 48 to the west of the Wood River Valley.

· Consolidating pronghorn antelope hunts in nearby units. A tentative proposal would combine pronghorn hunting in big game units 46 and 47 into a single season. The same is also being considered for pronghorn hunting in big game units 45 and 52, which would be combined into a single hunt under the tentative proposal.

These changes are being driven by a significant increase in recent years in the level of interest in local hunts, Fish and Game Magic Valley Region spokesman Kelton Hatch said. As just one example, Hatch cited the number of spike elk harvested in big game unit 49.

Just five or six years ago, hunters were harvesting about 20 spike elk in unit 49 each season, he said. That number has now risen to 70 or 80.

"People are figuring it out," he said.

Fish and Game is also considering changes to fishing regulations statewide. Locally, one change being considered is to make all of Silver Creek catch-and-release. Anglers can currently keep fish along a lower stretch of the creek.

The changes to fishing regulations are being considered as part of a significant restructuring of rules eyed for the 2011 season. Fish and Game intends to make the fishing rules more "user-friendly," Hatch said. The agency is interested in any ideas anglers may have, he said.

"If people have any ideas, they need to get them out there now," he said.

The same goes for the possible changes to hunting regulations.

"These are just ideas we're putting out," Hatch said.

Jason Kauffman:

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