January 21, 1995 in City

Wildlife Wins Batt’s Misplaced Battle

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Idaho Gov. Phil Batt has shown already that he’s decisive, tightfisted, and has a clear vision for where state government should go. On Friday, Batt revealed another important leadership trait.

He knows when to admit he’s wrong and cut his losses.

Batt did so by apologizing to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for sending the six members a letter asking them to resign. He correctly characterized his letter as “premature and ill-conceived.”

The unprecedented request caused the first major distraction of Batt’s new administration. And it was unnecessary. Batt has an opportunity this spring to put his own hand print on the commission by appointing two new members.

The controversy spawned by the letter has value, however.

The new governor knows now that Idaho sportsmen generally don’t like partisan politics mixing with fish and game management. In fact, almost 60 years ago, sportsmen passed a statewide initiative to prevent just that, creating a commission empowered to pick the Fish and Game Department director.

Batt’s goal in this misadventure was to fire Director Jerry Conley.

In his 14 years as director, Conley has ruffled feathers while running his department in a way that a recent poll shows has widespread public approval. His biggest enemies are southeastern sportsmen who disapprove of his game management, refusal to feed deer during the winter, and the department’s support of wolf relocation.

Idaho’s fish and game are well managed because Conley has the freedom to base decisions on scientific data rather than what the governor’s friends want.

Washington sportsmen would love to have a Fish and Wildlife Department director with that independence. Washington Director Bob Turner, who serves at Gov. Mike Lowry’s pleasure, runs a department that seems more dedicated to avoiding controversy than managing game.

Idaho’s wildlife managers aren’t without problems, however.

Ranchers have a valid complaint that the department is the worst of neighbors because it permits noxious weeds to take over its holdings. Commissioners are accused of haughtiness, ignoring overwhelming public testimony, and even falling asleep at meetings.

Commissioners won the public relations battle this time, but that doesn’t give them a mandate to ignore the two-legged creatures they also serve.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board


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