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Bills to raise Idaho hunting, fishing fees 20 percent heads to Senate

UPDATED: Tue., March 7, 2017, 10:32 p.m.

BOISE – The first fee increase for Idaho Fish and Game resident hunting and fishing licenses and tags since 2004 won the support of the House on Tuesday and is headed for the Senate.

The bill passed on a 43-26 vote after months of delay. If it passes the Senate and is signed into law by the governor, it would raise resident fees by 20 percent starting in 2018, but those who buy a license every year would avoid the increase through a “price lock” feature.

The measure would raise $3 million for Fish and Game operations that have been hard-hit by rising costs since 2004. It also includes a $5 surcharge – added at the request of lawmakers – to raise another $2 million to pay for wildlife depredation and hunting and fishing access.

House Resources Chairman Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, said the legislation is “good for Idaho farmers and ranchers, it’s good for Idaho sportsmen, and it’s good for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.”

Gibbs earlier refused to introduce the department’s fee bill until Fish and Game did more to address the depredation issue, which involves damage from game herds to farmers and ranchers’ property, crops and livestock. That was the big issue for Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, who debated at length against the bill.

“This, for me, is an issue that goes back a long, long time,” Miller said. “This is a matter of property rights, as far as I’m concerned.”

Miller said he grew up in the Fairfield area, his dad was born there, and his grandfather homesteaded there in 1901. “My mother’s family moved there in the late 1880s,” he said.

“When my dad was young, in the 20s, there weren’t many deer. Saw a wolf once in a while, still do.” Then in the 1930s, he said, “A bunch of farmers got together and brought in elk, hauled ’em out of Yellowstone. … My dad helped a little bit with that. … They took their trucks over there and loaded up the elk, hauled ’em in.”

The locals fed the elk herds in winter and nurtured them as they grew, he said.

“It was good business for Fish and Game, too,” Miller said.

Things went well until the early 1980s, he said, when “we started getting a lot of troubles with the elk coming down. … Those elk, they look for something to eat,” and farmers’ haystacks and hay barns were prime pickings, he said. “A couple years there, we lost $10,000 worth of hay. … As a property owner it has been an uphill battle to try to deal with Fish and Game.”

Miller said he believes the process for depredation claims to Fish and Game needs to be more independent. “We need an independent adjuster, someone who has no financial connection with the parties,” he said.

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he voted against the bill in committee but would support it in the full House vote. “I do believe they need the resources provided in this bill to adequately address depredation,” he said. “I will say … I love driving home and seeing a herd of elk on my neighbor’s property. It makes me feel good. Even at my age, I can say that a good-looking elk will still turn my head,” he said to laughter.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said, “The landowner should not have to bear the burden of everyone’s animals.”

And Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said, “The constituents in my district … they want more consistency in buying licenses. … I’m from a very depressed district. … To increase fees for the citizens of my district, it is a hardship.”

Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said, “I think there’s been notice today that Fish and Game needs to be held accountable, and that’s our job as legislators to do that. … I think there’s a lot of us that have ground that would like to see bigger depredation reimbursements, but this is a large increase from what has been done before.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who like Gibbs is a former Idaho Fish and Game commissioner, said, “If you listen closely you can hear the sound of hell freezing over … when the Idaho Farm Bureau supports a Fish and Game bill and a Fish and Game fee increase. … They understand that this is a paradigm shift.”

Gibbs said the bill raises the cap on the depredation account from its current $750,000 level to $2.5 million. “So we’ve essentially tripled the cap,” he said. “That’s a good step.”

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