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Eye On Boise

Thu., March 10, 2011, 3:01 p.m.

AP: Hunter-pilots aim cronyism charges at House leader

The Associated Press reports that the House's No. 2 elected official, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, has become the target of fury from hunters who accuse him of using his position to restrict access to a stash of western Idaho elk for just an elite few. Moyle, R-Star, wants to require pilots who land their rugged backcountry planes on unofficial landing sites like gravel bars or dry lake beds on state or federal land to wait at least one day before shouldering their rifles and beginning their hunt; click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Pilot-hunters aim cronyism charges at House leader
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House's No. 2 elected official, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, has become the target of fury from hunters who accuse him of using his position to restrict access to a stash of western Idaho elk for just an elite few.

Moyle, R-Star, wants to require pilots who land their rugged backcountry planes on unofficial landing sites like gravel bars or dry lake beds on state or federal land to wait at least one day before shouldering their rifles and beginning their hunt.

Moyle, whose Capitol office features a large wolf pelt and six-point elk antlers, was contacted by a hunting buddy who wants Idaho to adopt restrictions similar to states like Alaska and Utah aimed at preventing hunters from spotting big game from the air, landing, then making a quick, easy kill. Having witnessed such airborne incursions personally, Moyle insists he has long wanted to address the issue.

"I don't want to stop people from using their planes to hunt," Moyle told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I just don't want it abused."

But at a hearing Wednesday, Idaho residents who fly to their hunts told the House Resources and Conservation Committee they suspect Moyle really aims to discourage them from touching down on a dry lake bed below Washington County's 4,026-foot Sugarloaf Summit.

This mountainside in western Idaho includes thousands of acres of state and Bureau of Land Management territory but is largely surrounded by private holdings whose owner charges thousands of dollars for access privileges. Flying in is cheaper and easier than walking. What's more, the hunting buddy who approached Moyle about these changes is one of those who lease the private holdings surrounding the public land.

"This isn't about protection of animals, it's not about ethical hunting," said Toby Ashley, a Boise resident who hunts out of his single-engine Husky plane. "It's about access to public ground."

Benjamin Brandt, one of Ashley's hunting partners, recalled being dropped off by plane last October with his teen son before killing an elk about five hours later. The following day, Brandt said he was preparing to trek out on foot when he was confronted — and accused of trespassing — by one of the men who leases the private land. Brandt said the message was clear: Stay off Sugarloaf.

Bob Price, the Boise resident who is among those who lease the private holdings, has hunted birds with Moyle, the two having met through Price's son, a Boise lawyer.

But Price said he's not trying to use his connection to House leadership to scare off hunters from his stomping grounds.

He only wants to keep pilot-hunters from gaining an unfair advantage over their earthbound compatriots. Using a plane affords a hunter a good view of elk herds from the skies, allowing them to quickly set off in pursuit once they land. Waiting a day after landing levels the playing field, Price said.

"We don't want to be a jerk about it," he said. "We just want to protect the animals, to some extent, and make it so it's a fair hunt."

Adding to suspicions of hunters like Ashley and Brandt that Moyle's bill aims to benefit the politically connected, Price leases the private land surrounding Sugarloaf Summit from Harry Soulen, a western Idaho sheep rancher and relative by marriage of Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little. Legislators on the Resources and Conservation Committee have gotten an earful in recent days, bombarded with vitriolic e-mails accusing Moyle of cronyism.

But Moyle said he doesn't know Harry Soulen — and has never met him. He did call Little after learning of these concerns.

"I asked him, 'Who the hell is Harry Soulen?'" Moyle recalls.

Soulen, contacted by the AP on Wednesday, confirmed he has never met Moyle and didn't push for the bill, though he does support it.

"I haven't talked to Mike Moyle at all," said Soulen, whose family has raised sheep in the area since the early 1920s. "It's not so much an issue with private ground or federal ground. The real issue is flying, spotting game and hunting them on the same day."

Idaho law already forbids using helicopters to hunt, and it's against the law for hunters to communicate by radio with pilots overhead to locate big game herds. Pilots also can't haze animals into hunters' firing line.

Sharon Kiefer, the Department of Fish and Game assistant policy director, says her agency some years ago debated something similar to Moyle's proposal after concerns arose about hunters zipping in and out of the open desert near Arco in southeastern Idaho. Those efforts were abandoned amid concerns about their practicality.

"At the end of the day, we hear far more about off-road vehicle use than we do airplanes," she said.

Moyle's legislation passed the committee Wednesday on a 12-5 vote, but is now due amendments to placate Idaho outfitters who fear it could unintentionally restrict their clients who land planes at official backcountry landing strips overseen by the Idaho Department of Transportation.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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