An Idaho Fish and Game commissioner said Thursday that hunters and anglers ought to have a chance to comment on any significant changes to a proposed bill that would increase the costs of hunting and fishing licenses, even if it means delaying the process until next year.
Dan Blanco of Moscow said he and his fellow commissioners have yet to come up with a solid proposal to fix problems with the state’s program to compensate farmers for crop damage caused by deer, elk and other wildlife. Earlier this month, Rep. Marcus Gibbs, R-Grace and chairman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee, said he wouldn’t allow the commission’s Price Lock legislation to be printed until unspecified problems with the wildlife depredation program are solved.
The proposed bill would raise the price of hunting and fishing licenses and tags by $1 to $6. Prices for Idaho residents haven’t increased since 2015, but the department’s costs are up more than 20 percent. To make ends meet, the agency has reduced production at some of its hatcheries.
Blanco said any proposed legislative fix should be vetted by hunters and anglers and he is worried that might not be possible since the legislative session is a month old and gathering public comment takes time.
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“I want to make sure that out of some false sense of urgency we don’t push a bill that sportsmen haven’t had an adequate chance to weigh in on,” he said.
“Ideally, I would like us to take a little more time with this, even if that means waiting until next year to put a bill forward. I would like to see a top-to-bottom review of the whole depredation program.”
Resident hunters and anglers generally back the fee increase, said Blanco. He noted they also have supported the commission’s opposition to the expansion of the auction tag program and allowing landowners to sell prized hunting tags.
Blanco said one fix being discussed would place a surcharge – or conservation fee – on licenses that would increase money available to compensate landowners who suffer wildlife crop damage and also provide money to improve hunting and fishing access. The fee would apply to both hunters and anglers, although anglers might balk.
Any legislation also should include a precise definition of “reasonable access,” he said.
“The definition of reasonable access in my mind has been a little loosey goosey,” he said. “I think it needs to be sharpened so sportsmen have a clear expectation when their dollars go to a landowner in the form of a depredation payment.”
Department officials are expected to refine potential fixes and report back to commissioners Thursday.
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