House Resources Chairman Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, says he’s not holding the Idaho Fish & Game Department’s proposed fee increase hostage – he just wants the department to first propose solutions to increased depredation that Idaho farmers and ranchers have been seeing from the state’s increased deer and elk herds. “The Fish & Game Department has done a wonderful job of growing the deer and elk herd,” he said. “Now, the problem is the deer and elk herd, especially this winter, are substantially on private property, and there are some depredation issues.”
Gibbs acknowledged that he returned two bills to Fish & Game, refusing to hold a print hearing on either – including the fee increase – until he heard back on how it’ll address increased depredation. “We have no intention of telling the commission how to go about doing that,” Gibbs said. “I asked them to figure out a way to handle those complaints.”
He said Fish & Game may find that addressing the increase in depredation complaints will cost more than they have available. “If that’s the case, the fee increase may not be sufficient,” he said. “If the cost of depredation is higher and they don’t have the funds to cover it, the fee increase is going to have to be higher.”
He added that if that’s the case, the department could also consider auction tags or landowner appreciation tags – two controversial moves that some lawmakers have supported, but the commission has opposed – to raise money for Fish & Game. “That’s in the toolbox,” Gibbs said. “But a straight-up fee increase could also solve the problem.”
Gibbs distributed copies of Monday’s Fish & Game news release on the topic to the House Resources Committee at the opening of its meeting this afternoon, saying, “I returned a couple pieces of legislation last week to the department when the commission was here. … I wanted to make sure you were all aware of the action.” He added, “I know you’re getting substantial emails from folks wanting to have a hearing on the fee increase. At this point, we have no RS regarding a fee increase.” RS stands for “routing slip” – that’s the preliminary form that a bill in the Idaho Legislature takes, before a committee votes to introduce it. He apparently was saying he doesn’t have an RS because he returned it to Fish & Game.
Gibbs told Eye on Boise, “The issue is let’s take care of farmers’ and ranchers’ losses, then let’s come and talk to us about a fee increase.” Idaho Fish & Game hasn’t raised resident hunting and fishing license and tag fees since 2004, though it’s been seeking an increase for the past few years, proposing a “price lock” system in which those who consistently buy licenses every year could avoid the hike.
“Is it time for a fee increase? Absolutely,” Gibbs said. He noted that he served on the commission when the last fee increase was approved in 2004, and personally lobbied the Legislature in favor of it. “This is not, particularly by me, this is not intended to be negative to the department,” he said. “I don’t at all mean that those folks aren’t doing a great job.”