Greg Tourtlotte left Coeur d’Alene just long enough to get a taste of wildlife politics in the south half of Idaho.
Now he’s back as the Fish and Game Department’s top dog in the Panhandle.
Tourtlotte, a 22-year-veteran of the agency, was the Panhandle’s enforcement chief for eight years. Two years ago, he advanced in rank and moved south to Pocatello to become the Southeast Region manager.
Nothing in North Idaho appears poised for the excitement Tourtlotte faced in September, when 15 African lions had to be killed after escaping from a ramshackle wild animal compound in his region near Lava Hot Springs.
Dealing with the wrath of winter flooding and landslides will be his first major headache as Panhandle administrator.
“First we’ll be trying to make sure all the human needs are met, and trying at same time to see that the needs of fisheries and wildlife are at least considered,” he said.
“I think without a doubt there have been significant impacts on fisheries. But it’s too early to estimate them.”
Tourtlotte, 49, returned last month to assume the regional manager position vacated by Dave Ortmann, who retired in October.
Schooled as a wildlife biologist with a masters degree in zoology, Tourtlotte landed his first job with Idaho Fish and Game as an enforcement agent.
“Right from the beginning, I really enjoyed the variety of work and the opportunities in enforcement,” he said. “Back then, enforcement guys were involved in almost everything in the field, from fisheries and wildlife management and habitat work to public relations.
“It’s still a jack-of-all-trades job, but as time goes on, the conservation officer’s opportunity to get involved in activities other than enforcement are diminished.”
North Idaho has many attractions for a regional manger, not the least of which is the terrain.
“In southeastern Idaho, the public has a lot more opportunity to second-guess wildlife managers based on observation,” Tourtlotte said. “Deer are easy to see in groups down there because the terrain is wide open.”
A dry year might concentrate deer near water, giving the impression of large herds in that vicinity, he said.
But a natural event such as a wet year can spread the same number of deer over a much wider area and make them less visible. “People tend to think there are fewer deer and, of course, it’s our fault,” he said.
“In the Panhandle, because of the topography and forest canopy, we are looked on more as the experts in the field of assessing the health of animal populations. People have less expectation of seeing hundreds of deer in a day because we don’t have the open terrain.”
This dense terrain also makes big game more difficult to hunt, thus, hunting seasons and permit systems are more liberal here, he said.
But even in North Idaho, Tourtlotte sees a big challenge in maintaining stable game herds in the onslaught of habitat destruction.
“No part of the state is immune to that,” he said.
Advancing in rank can be bittersweet for a wildlife professional
“No, I don’t get out in the field as much,” he said. “But I still try to do it as much as I can. If there’s an advantage to moving up, it’s that to a certain extent I can select my field assignments.
“You lose some spontaneity. You don’t go out on those 2 a.m. calls to salvage a moose off the highway. But I can live without that.”
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