Friday, March 26, 2010

All Idahoans should shoulder costs of wildlife

Idaho hunters and fishermen need help in supporting the state's fish and wildlife.

Their license fees are the primary source of funds for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, along with federal infusions of money. No state tax dollars have been used to support the department since it was created by a voter initiative in 1938.

That comes as a surprise to most people, who assume that all state agencies are supported by general tax dollars.

The problem with this funding structure is that people who do not fish, trap or hunt get a free ride. They can enjoy wildlife without any responsibility for its care and management.

Fish and Game operates 32 wildlife management areas scattered around the state. They are prime examples of areas that offer public access, but are supported only by hunters and fishermen.

The areas are more than rough sagelands or forests. Some contain crops grown specifically to be eaten by upland game birds. Others contain restored native vegetation relished by big game. Many have ponds stocked with fish and frequented by waterfowl or small streams or river access points—some with ramps or decks built for handicapped people.

These prized islands of habitat support far more than game animals. From rabbits to redtailed hawks, all are busy wildlife communities, and they attract people of every stripe. Their maintenance requires care—and money.

Yet, last week the Idaho House rejected a bill sponsored by Midvale Republican Judy Boyle to require purchase of a $10 conservation permit by people who hike or boat within the WMAs. The proceeds would have benefited the areas.

Rep. Lenore Barrett of Challis snidely called the bill "nothing more than trolling for dollars" and reportedly invited people to come to her Challis home to see deer and elk in her yard—for free. These would be deer and elk that graze on lands paid for by federal taxpayers and herds that are managed by the hunter-supported Department of Fish and Game.

The move to require conservation permits should not be the last. Hikers, bikers, photographers and birdwatchers that use these special areas should pay their fair share to support them. In fact, all Idahoans should bear some of the costs for wildlife.

Idaho is a special place. Its fish and wildlife are a major part of what makes it so engaging. A bluebird here, an antelope there, a trout rising to a fly, and pretty soon an afternoon walk becomes a soaring inspirational experience.

This is a legacy worth the protection and financial support of every Idahoan, not just hunters and fishermen.

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