More than 900 hunters, anglers, wildlife-watchers and trappers have registered to participate in the three-day Wildlife Summit that begins Friday.
It starts at 3 p.m. at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City and satellite sites in Coeur dAlene, Lewiston, Salmon, Twin Falls, Pocatello and Idaho Falls. Technology will allow people anywhere else to watch and participate via the Internet, offering the public an unprecedented opportunity to get involved in wildlife decisions.
Why is the Department of Fish and Game doing this?
F&G wants to bridge the gap between all varieties of wildlife lovers to help it find the money and support it will need in the future to manage all the wildlife Idahoans want protected animals to hunt, fish to catch and all the critters that other enthusiasts want to see and hear.
Director Virgil Moore is confident that license-buying hunters and anglers can continue to pick up the tab as they have for a century.
For now. But over the longer haul, trends show numbers dropping nationally. U.S. anglers now number 30 million, down from 35 million a decade ago. Hunter numbers dropped from 14 million to 12.5 million in the same period.
Idahos numbers are steady. Moore is confident that will continue for a while. But over the next 20 years, he predicts fewer people will buy licenses to participate in consumptive outdoor sports as Idaho becomes more urban.
Sportsmen cannot meet all of the needs of society in terms of wildlife, Moore said.
Is this just about money?
No. Idaho's Department of Fish and Game has been caught in the middle of the fight over wolves and other predators, which is amplified by cuts in federal dollars and declines in license fees.
Thats why Moore decided to try this ambitious summit to hash out or at least discuss calmly the future of Idaho wildlife and his agency.
How does Idaho pay for fish and wildlife today?
Hunter and angler license fees provide most of the state funds, with a small amount of money from trout, elk and bluebird specialty license plates. Some money comes from federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment distributed to the states.
A lot of money comes from other federal programs. F&G has a flat budget of about $90 million and a staff of more than 550; federal funds account for about half of the state budget. But federal aid is expected to drop as Congress addresses budget deficits.
Idaho has seen a dramatic drop in non-resident elk and deer tags, which have been critical to generating cash for wildlife management.
From 2008 to 2012, non-resident elk and deer tags dropped by 70 percent from a peak of 14,000. Part of the reason: The Legislature raised the cost for non-resident elk hunters by nearly $100, Moore said. But the recession and the perception that wolves have reduced herds also has contributed to the decline, Moore said.
So who cares about wildlife?
Ninety-nine percent of Idahoans are personally interested in wildlife, according to a new poll to be released at the summit. Sixty-one percent are very interested.
The poll found that 74 percent of Idahoans said it was important that people have the opportunity to hunt and 83 percent said the same about fishing. Seventy-seven percent said it was important to be able to see fish and wildlife.
Faced with the choice of conserving fish and wildlife habitat and providing land for new homes, 72 percent chose conservation.
Who did the survey?
Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Va. It surveyed and interviewed 1,059 people in the state, an oversample of 200 people 18 to 35 and additional over-samples of 203 hunters and 203 anglers. The sampling error is plus or minus 3 points.
Who will speak at the summit?
Gov. Butch Otter will appear by video Friday. Moore will speak, then Jim Posewitz, founder of Orion: The Hunters Institute.
Saturday speakers include Shane Mahoney, a biologist and prominent spokesman for wildlife conservation from Newfoundland, Canada; and Toni Hardesty, a former director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and now director for The Nature Conservancy-Idaho. On Sunday they all will be on a panel.
Are they just going to talk at us?
No. There will be a cafe session Saturday, where people will be asked to talk about their relationship to Idaho fish and wildlife and what they want for the future. Participants at the sessions and online will also be asked to give their opinions on a range of issues.
Has F&G come to the citizens before?
In 1938, sportsmen joined together to put an initiative on the ballot to establish the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, which was designed to get politics out of wildlife management. It passed by 76 percent.
In 1988 former Fish and Game Director Jerry Conley convened a wildlife congress at the same Riverside Hotel, and 900 people came from around the state, the largest gathering on wildlife issues in Idaho history. It prompted the formation of state and regional wildlife councils that for more than a decade connected the public with the commission.
Will people join hands and sing Kumbaya this weekend?
Not this crowd. Wildlife politics have never been as polarized as they are now, since the comeback of wolves.
Hunters have resisted seeking funding from the wider and more diverse group of wildlife enthusiasts because they fear losing control of decision-making. Supporters of wolves, other predators and non-game species feel left out of state wildlife decisions.
Anglers are more united; old divisions between bait fishers and fly fishers has subsided. There may be protesters with signs from both sides outside the meetings.
Who opposes this summit?
George Dovel of Horseshoe Bend, editor and publisher of The Outdoorsman newsletter, has long been a critic of Fish and Game. He wants the end of all programs that are not specifically aimed at producing the maximum numbers of fish and game that hunters and anglers prefer. He thinks that would cut its budget by half.
He also resents how hunting seasons have changed from a single-week deer season when schools would close so kids could hunt with their families. Now wildlife are harassed five months out of the year and hunters have to buy additional tags for hunts that force them to travel all around the state, he argues.
He and others say that if wildlife enthusiasts who dont hunt or fish begin footing part of the bill, it will lead to the end of sustained-yield hunting and fishing.
I have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he said. I think they are going to lose a lot of opportunity for the enjoyment of the outdoors when this takes place.
Whats Moore say to that?
Times have changed, he said. We have more opportunity (to hunt and fish) today than weve ever had, but its just not the same.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484