HUNTING -- Idaho sportsman are becoming wary of wealthy individuals who appear to be working to monopolize hunting access and wildlife management.
The billionaire Wilks brothers of Texas have caught attention for purchasing and closing public access to 172,000 acres of Potatch timberland.
And scrutiny is increasing on efforts to pump up the big-game auction tag program to boost the opportunities for hunters to whom money is not an issue.
Sportsmen have sought access to email accounts for Idaho lawmakers to track the influence in the auction tag issue. The results are interesting, as you'll see in the roundup below by Lewiston Tribune outdoor writer Eric Barker:
Communications acquired by an Idaho wildlife group show a wealthy
southern Idaho businessman who favors auctioning coveted hunting tags
successfully advocated for two Idaho Fish and Game commissioners who
opposed the idea to lose their jobs.
The cache of emails also shows a growing animosity and turf war between
the commission and key legislators as they clashed over auction tags —
with the commission saying the tags give wealthy hunters an unfair
advantage and legislators saying they would raise much-needed revenue
for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
The Idaho Wildlife Federation acquired hundreds of pages of emails from
a handful of state legislators, Gov. C.L “Butch” Otter’s staff and
Pocatello businessman Doug Sayer through the state’s Public Records Law.
The group said the emails show the state’s system of wildlife management
is under threat from monied interests and political influence.
“Idahoans enjoy a world-class wildlife resource thanks to our
independent fish and game commission,” said Kahle Becker with the Idaho
Wildlife Federation. “The strong-arm politics we have unveiled are a
direct threat to Idaho sportsmen and the hunting heritage we have built
In a message sent to Otter’s chief of staff, David Hensley, on March 16,
Sayer writes about his frustration with the commission and Idaho Fish
and Game Department Director Virgil Moore for not being more receptive
to auction tags as a source of revenue for wildlife management. He
suggests a “change of chemistry” is needed on the commission as well as
a change of leadership at the department.
“I must recommend to you that we do not reappoint Mark Doerr or Will
Naillon when their term expires in June. It would be unfair of me to
complain and not offer a possible solution, I know a couple of
candidates that I feel would do a better job and I would also be willing
to sit on a search committee if needed,” he wrote. “It is a difficult
and severe problem but when faced with something like this, one also
needs to look at the top of the organization and wonder if that
individual is part of the problem. In this case I believe Virgil and
especially his deputy director are in fact promoting the culture that we
Sayer, who did not return messages seeking comment, is chief business
officer for Premier Technology Inc. and chairman of the Wild Sheep
Foundation. Along with lobbyist John Watts of Boise, Sayer authored
successful legislation in 2010 that gives the commission authority to
issue up to a dozen auction tags, three each for deer, elk and antelope
and one each for moose, elk and bighorn sheep. The measure was carried
in the Legislature by Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, and Rep. Mike Moyle,
Sayer’s email was sent shortly after the seven-member commission
declined to implement auction tags. About two months later, Otter
declined to reappoint Doerr and Naillon to second terms on the
commission but said they could reapply. They did not. Both men have said
they lost their voluntary jobs because of their refusal to bend to the
will of people like Sayer, Bair and Moyle.
“It’s not a real surprise that that was going on,” Naillon said of the
political pressure exposed in the email. “I think it just really proved
everything that everybody thought.”
Doerr said he and Naillon declined to reapply for their jobs because it
was clear it would have been fruitless.
Jon Hanian, a spokesman for Otter, maintains Naillon and Doerr were not
fired from their positions but instead chose not to reapply. He did not
directly respond to a question about Otter’s stance on the commission’s
refusal to approve auction tags. But he did offer support for Moore.
“The governor strongly supports, and has utmost confidence in, the
current leadership at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game,” he said.
During the most recent legislative session, Moyle and Bair pushed a bill
that would have mandated the commission to issue auction tags by
changing language from “may” to “shall” in the existing legislation
giving the commission authorization to approve tags. The bill never made
it out of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, which is
chaired by Bair.
Doerr said it’s clear the legislators and Sayer were trying to pressure
the commission to do something they knew would be difficult to
accomplish through lawmaking. Hunters in the state repeatedly told the
commission at public meetings they oppose auction tags.
“The commission is not a tool or arm of the Legislature. We are not
required to follow their position because they deem it to be so,” Doerr
said. “If the Legislature disagrees with the commission’s position on
any issue they have ability to introduce legislation and make the change
they desire. This whole issue was about auction tags and as the emails
show, Sen. Bair did not have the votes in his own committee to move it
to the floor of the Senate.”
According to the emails, comments Doerr submitted to legislators over
Senate Bill 1344 — which required the fish and game department to
outsource its annual lottery for high-quality hunting tags — angered
legislators. In his comments, Doerr talks about the intent of the 1938
initiative that created the fish and game commission and department to
insulate game management from political influence. The initiative gave
the commission authority to administer policy.
“With that in mind I ask you, how many laws need to be written by the
Legislature, restricting commission authority to administer the policy,
before you have effectively nullified the commission and the voters? At
some point, after a number of new laws, you have overridden the citizens
initiative and without asking their opinion, rendered their collective
voting, 78 (percent) of voters in 1938, irrelevant,” he wrote.
Bair, in an email sent to Sayer in the fall of 2015, referenced the
clash between the commission and some lawmakers over auction tags.
“So, currently, I have never seen relationships so tenuous and stressed
between the Legislature and (fish and game). The department has decided
to take a hard policy line this coming session, knowing well that they
will never get the fee increases they desire by taking such hard line
positions,” he wrote. “In fact, last week as they reviewed their goals
with us, they did not even mention fee increases. I guess they have
chosen power of policy over fee increases.”