Rocky Barker: Hoyt’s poaching conviction brings enough shame

Idaho StatesmanDecember 23, 2013 

The fall of Idaho conservation leader Marv Hoyt this month was of Shakespearean proportions.

A year ago, his interview with actor Aasif Mandvi was the center of a “Daily Show” report on Comedy Central that told millions of viewers about selenium pollution from Idaho’s phosphate industry and the JR Simplot Co. It followed a New York Times article that had captured national attention over two-headed fish that appeared in a Simplot report.

The 2012 stories brought national attention to an issue that Hoyt had worked on fearlessly for years.

A sentencing last week by 6th District Magistrate David Evans in Pocatello revealed that Hoyt had pleaded guilty in November to killing three elk and leaving two in the woods to rot. Adding to his branding as a poacher — one of the most notorious criminal labels you can get in the West — he told Idaho Department of Fish and Game officers that he had killed a spike elk during a cow hunt in the same area in 2001 and “snuck it out,” the Idaho State Journal reported in an exclusive story.

Hoyt was the Idaho director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a Bozeman environmental group that had fought hard to protect grizzly bears, restore wolves to the region and push Idaho’s phosphate industry to clean up 17 Superfund sites polluted by past mining practices. Hoyt was not a voice for compromise.

He often was as hard on his friends in the conservation community as he was on those he considered enemies. He set a high bar for ecosystem protection and was outspoken when people didn’t meet it in his view.

So it was no surprise Thursday, the day after the story became public, that conservative radio hosts and callers in his hometown of Idaho Falls were having a field day pointing out his hypocrisy. They had a right, since he was quick to do the same when someone from the other side tripped up.

Even more interesting were the attacks from his friends — or, as they said on Facebook, his former friends — in the conservation community. Poaching and especially wasting meat is a cardinal sin among conservationists, particularly the sportsmen Hoyt purported to be.

Many people own fly rods Hoyt built by hand, including Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw and me. I hunted for upland game birds and ducks with Hoyt several times when I lived in eastern Idaho.

For the record, I never saw the kind of unethical behavior in the field that Hoyt’s sentencing revealed. Magistrate Evans fined him $4,800, ordered him to do 32 hours of community service and suspended a 30-day jail sentence for two misdemeanors.

The magnitude of his crime, especially the waste and dishonesty, could have brought felony charges.

For Hoyt, the suspension of his hunting privileges may be the toughest burden to bear, along with the shame it brings to his family.

I can’t join the piling on that I’ve seen from people who once called him a friend. I talked to Fish and Game officials; it appears Hoyt got into a herd of elk, got confused and kept shooting. Hunters are warned against this basic kind of carelessness in hunter education.

That mistake alone might have brought him down, but it was the next decision that turned him into a poacher. He cleaned and tagged one elk and left the other two, deciding — as he had done in 2001 — not to call the wardens and take his medicine.

Wardens see the first mistake all the time. They have told me how the hunter reacts is key to how they treat the offense.

I made such an error myself in the early 1980s. While hunting in Wisconsin, I shot a doe while aiming at a buck. I called the wardens, paid the fine and took my lumps — I was an outdoors writer who was supposed to know better, after all — when the news came out in the newspaper.

Since I am not without sin, I certainly can’t cast a stone. Seems to me that in this Christmas season, Hoyt deserves a chance to redeem himself by seeking forgiveness and working to make the world a better place.

That part is up to him. It is in our hands and hearts to decide whether to extend to Hoyt the kind of tolerance that he didn’t often offer others in the past.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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