State Politics

Hunting dispute puts Sen. Bair in crosshairs of former Fish and Game commissioners

District 31 Sen. Steve Bair is chair of the Resources and Environment Committee.
District 31 Sen. Steve Bair is chair of the Resources and Environment Committee. Post Register

A group of former Idaho Fish and Game commissioners sent a letter to state Senate President Brent Hill Thursday asking him to replace Sen. Steve Bair as chairman of the Resources and Environment Committee.

The 15 commissioners charge that Bair, R-Blackfoot, has shown bias toward the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and its governing commission.

We fear if the chemistry of the committee is not changed this issue will not heal or repair itself.

Letter from former commissioners

“Because of Senator Bair’s influence as chairman and his demonstrated bias, we do not feel he can maintain the objectivity to fairly provide oversight of the Fish and Game Department and manage the commissioner confirmation process,” they wrote. “We fear if the chemistry of the committee is not changed this issue will not heal or repair itself.”

If the language “change of chemistry” and “issue will not heal itself” sound familiar, it’s because similar phrases were used in an email that Doug Sayer of Pocatello, one of Bair’s constituents, used when he advocated earlier this year that Gov. Butch Otter not reappoint two sitting Idaho Fish and Game commissioners.

When their terms expired in July, Mark Doerr of Twin Falls and Will Naillon of Challis were not reappointed to the board. Both men were among the 15 who signed the letter. Other signers include Fred Trevey, Keith Carlson, Keith Stonebraker and Will Godfrey of Lewiston and Alex Irby of Orofino.

Emails acquired through a public records request by the Idaho Wildlife Foundation showed that Bair and other legislators have been angry at Fish and Game commissioners for more than a year for not approving auction tags — a proposal pushed by Sayer — as well as their coolness to allowing landowners to sell hunting tags they receive from the state and their opposition to a bonus point system that would allow hunters to purchase extra chances in the state’s big-game-hunting tag lottery.

During the 2014 legislative session, commissioners pulled a bill that would have raised hunting and fishing fees because lawmakers said they intended to tack on amendments forcing the commission to approve auction tags, bonus points and the sale of landowner tags.

Bair, in an email sent to Sayer in the fall of 2015, referenced the clash between the commission and some lawmakers over auction tags and the other issues.

“So, currently, I have never seen relationships so tenuous and stressed between the Legislature and (Fish and Game). The department has decided to take a hard policy line this coming session, knowing well that they will never get the fee increases they desire by taking such hard line positions,” he wrote. “In fact, last week as they reviewed their goals with us, they did not even mention fee increases. I guess they have chosen power of policy over fee increases.”

Bair could not be reached for comment Thursday and Hill did not immediately return a phone call seeking his reaction to the commissioners’ letter.

Doerr said Bair’s willingness to block fee increase legislation unless commissioners approve the proposals warrants his replacement as chairman.

“We think he crossed the line and his integrity and credibility in dealing with Fish and Game matters is now in question.”

Trevey said the former commissioners felt compelled to defend the 1938 initiative that created the commission and was designed to insulate game management from politics. Instead of allowing commissioners to do their jobs, he said legislators like Bair have been trying to bully them into making decisions hunters and anglers oppose.

“Once we started talking to each other, everybody said, ‘We know about this, we are frustrated about it, we are concerned if we do not take action on it, then it is in all likelihood going to continue,’” he said., (208) 848-2273