The vote last week by the Idaho Senate to reject a nominee for the Idaho Fish and Game Commission who was not an ardent-enough hunter appeared to be a slap in the face of the panel's effort to find more money to manage wildlife.
Joan Hurlock, a fitness center owner from Buhl who championed getting youth involved in the outdoors, seemed to personify the goals that were developed last year in a statewide Idaho Wildlife Summit that attracted 3,000 participants.
Those participants, like the polls the agency conducted before the meeting, said there is overwhelming support to expand the base for funding fish and wildlife management beyond hunting and fishing licenses.
But, pushed by the agency's traditional user and financial base, the Senate rejected Hurlock because critics said the hunter and fisherwoman was not passionate enough about hunting.
Hurlock's supporters say the vote doesn't change the fact that Fish and Game must keep reaching out to women, children and non-hunters.
"Remember, that wildlife belongs to all of Idaho," Sen. Patty Ann Lodge, a Republican from Huston, said during the Senate debate.
F&G Director Virgil Moore convened last summer's Wildlife Summit to send the message about diversifying beyond sportsmen and conservation groups. Toni Hardesty, the former Idaho DEQ chief who now heads the Nature Conservancy in Idaho, was one of the summit speakers.
"We should not let this be a setback to getting people to work together for the ideas that came out of the Wildlife Summit," Hardesty said.
MODERN F&G MATH
Today, 57 percent of the $92 million budget for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game comes from resident and nonresident tag sales and taxes on sporting goods. But out-of-state hunter numbers have dropped, and fewer young people are choosing to hunt as the nation becomes more urban.
Faced with those financial realities, the Fish and Game Commission has a choice: Does it become a leaner agency devoted to hunters and anglers - and the 17 percent of Idahoans who want the agency to manage only the species that hunters and anglers kill?
Or, does the agency appeal to the more than 90 percent of Idahoans who stated in an F&G poll that they support Idaho wildlife beyond just hunting and fishing opportunities.
Last month, the commission voted to have the department explore how states like Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas have been able to funnel some of the taxes collected on the sale of outdoor goods to their fish and wildlife departments.
GOING TO THE VOTERS
Fish and Game Commission Chairman Randy Budge said that making such a move in Idaho probably won't come from the Legislature.
"The reality is, it's going to require a citizens initiative like the one in 1938 that created the commission," Budge said.
Republican Sen. Lee Heider of Twin Falls, who led the effort to defeat Hurlock's nomination, participated in the Wildlife Summit. He said he was not happy with the way it was conducted or with the involvement of conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy.
But he said he supports expanding the agency's funding base beyond hunters and anglers.
"It would be great," he said. "But today the bulk of their funding comes from hunters."
STATES' RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Hurlock gave money to controversial elk rancher Rex Rammell's campaign, and she says she's a conservative Republican. As the daughter of a California game warden, Hurlock said her views about states' rights and liberty don't conflict with her concerns about the environment.
"Just because you are concerned about the environment and want to be sure the air and water is clean and wildlife protected doesn't make you bad or liberal," Hurlock said. "After all, sportsmen were the original conservationists."
Chairman Budge said the Nov. 6 measure approved by 74 percent of voters that placed the right to hunt and fish in the Idaho Constitution should allay hunters' fears they will lose control of Fish and Game to anti-hunting groups.
"There's a lot of fear in the fish and game community that if you broaden the base, Idaho will become another California," Budge said. "Most of us believe Idaho will never become California."
Rocky Barker: 377-6484