Idaho Gov. Butch Otter used his dusty veto stamp last week on a bill that would have diverted up to $100,000 in hunter-access funds from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to wolf management.
In crying “Wolf!” the Legislature would have forced IDFG to pare down a program that pays landowners money in exchange for allowing access for hunters on or through private property.
A long-standing program, it has successfully kept both public and private areas open for hunting that landowners legally could have closed off. Payments help offset hunter impacts such as litter and downed fences that require time and money from landowners to fix.
Fish and Game officials say that the program opened up 432,000 acres to hunters last year that otherwise would have been closed. That’s not just good for hunters, it’s good for the state economy that benefits from hunting and fishing.
Supporters of the bill wanted to use the diverted funds to make up for federal budget cuts to a depredation program that manages wolves that kill livestock or big game in struggling herds. The governor said he believes that with their money at stake, sportsmen should have been allowed to weigh in before money was diverted.
The Legislature’s action would have increased an already heavy and unwelcome burden on Fish and Game for managing wolves. The department receives nothing in general tax dollars and is supported primarily by license fees paid by hunters and fishermen.
Sportsmen didn’t invite wolves back to Idaho and shouldn’t be punished by the state and federal government’s need to manage them. Otter’s veto will force state officials to find a better way.