If Gov. Butch Otter and key GOP lawmakers intend to change the direction of Idaho wildlife management, let a public forum examine and debate that decision.
The appropriate opportunity awaits.
The cronyism that has permeated so much of Otter’s tenure may have seeped into his Fish and Game dealings.
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Earlier this summer, Otter took the unusual step of denying Fish and Game Commissioners Mark Doerr and Will Naillon reappointment to second terms. Doerr, Naillon and their supporters believe the governor knuckled under to agricultural and moneyed interests who want to ditch eight decades of egalitarianism in wildlife management and in its place create a system that rewards people at the top of the economic ladder.
Naillon and Doerr were part of a unanimous Fish and Game Commission that resisted legislative pressure to allow landowners to make money by selling the extra tags they receive, thereby raising the possibility of private hunting preserves.
The Fish and Game Commission also refused to put more of Idaho’s most prized hunting opportunities on the auction block, insisting everyone should have an equal chance.
Last week, Otter appointed retired Magistrate Jerry Meyers of North Fork to Naillon’s seat and Rupert farmer Greg Cameron to Doerr’s slot.
Otter does not have the last word, however. Sometime next winter, both Meyers and Cameron will appear before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee for confirmation hearings. By then, Meyers and Cameron will have served about four months in office, plenty of time to get acclimated.
That could be your last best chance to find out what’s really going on — assuming members of the committee are willing to press for answers.
For instance, when it comes to the constant tension between serving Idaho agriculture or preserving and perpetuating wildlife, on which side will you find Meyers and Cameron?
What is their view of the 1938 voter-passed initiative that took wildlife management out of the hands of politicians and placed it within a professional department answerable to an independent commission? Do they see their role on that commission as autonomous? Or are they going to do what the governor and the Legislature tell them?
What about the current controversy? Do Meyers and Cameron agree with the remaining members of the Fish and Game Commission about not expanding the ability of landowners to get and sell hunting tags? Or do they believe that in order to raise more money for Fish and Game, the agency should sell some of Idaho’s best hunting opportunities to the highest bidders?
During the appointment process, did Otter’s office press them on that point? How about lawmakers? What questions did they ask? How did Meyers and Cameron answer?
There’s no reason to think Meyers and Cameron won’t be part of a long tradition of independent Fish and Game Commission members. But when the Tribune’s Eric Barker questioned him about the controversy, Meyers was noncommittal — and Cameron could not be reached for comment.
With more than two years left in his term, Otter has the opportunity to continue packing the commission with his appointments. If Meyers and Cameron are the vanguard of a campaign to politicize the department, now is the time to find out.
This is no time for Republicans and Democrats on that panel to sit on their hands. Otherwise, it becomes a fait accompli.