The legislation is set to win approval in the Idaho Senate, perhaps as early as today.
House Bill 597 was already approved by the Idaho House of Representatives and exited the Senate Resources and Environment Committee Friday with a "do pass" recommendation.
The measure would undercut the authority of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board, which has authority over outfitters and guides whether they operate on public or private property. According to the bill, private landowners or their employees could offer services for hunting or other activities without obtaining a license from the board.
Some hunters fear the bill will make it more difficult for average Joe hunters to gain permission to hunt on private property and will turn game animals into a commodity.
"Fish and game is the property of the state and not the property of landowners," said Paul Waldon of Boise. "This was touted as a private property issue. Well doggone it, just because you own property doesn't necessarily give you the right to harvest on a paid-for basis the fish and game of the state."
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, unsuccessfully attempted to have the bill held in committee. He believes the bill, which is supported by the Idaho Farm Bureau and opposed by the Idaho Sportsman's Caucus Advisory Council and the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, was written to retaliate against the Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board for what he calls an overreach by the board. He said legislators heard stories of the board trying to tell landowners who offered things such as hay rides or corn mazes that they needed to be licensed.
"I think the Outfitters and Guides Board overstepped their authority and this bill is a reaction to their overstep, and I think it goes beyond what is necessary," he said. "I think it's an overreaction to an overreaction."
Like Waldon, he believes the state should have some oversight when it comes to commercial use of public resources.
"I believe the wildlife is a state resource, it's a state asset, and we are setting up a bifurcated system by which some people you would require (to have an outfitter or guide) license and some people you wouldn't in order to harvest one of the state's resources," Cameron said.
Landowners and the hunters they host would still have to have hunting licenses and tags and follow rules set by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. But the state, through the Licensing Board, would no longer have a role to play in promoting the health and safety of the outfitted public on private property.
That is OK with Joseph Peterson, manager of the Flying B Ranch near Kamiah.
"The Outfitters and Guides Association is adamantly opposed to this, and I'm on the board of directors, but I disagree with them on this particular item," he said. "The Outfitters and Guides Act passed because outfitters lobbied to do that for the purpose of protecting the health and safety of the public. The outfitters originally pushed for it. I disagree because I'm of a very strong libertarian bent."
He said if the bill passes, any landowners who plan to take advantage of it and offer guiding services, should be aware it comes with an added liability risk. In most cases, Idaho law shields landowners who give free access to hunters and anglers from civil prosecution resulting from accidents. But he said that goes away the second they accept compensation.
Peterson doesn't buy the arguments from those who think the bill will lead to a decrease in public access to private ground. He points out that the customers of outfitters are members of the public.
"Oftentimes landowners do not allow anyone on their property unless there is some monetary compensation. So in many cases I have leased property that has increased the public access to it," he said. "It actually has potential to open some property that heretofore has not been open."
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