As sportsmen attempt to contemplate the cuts that may be coming for federal programs that benefit sportsmen and healthy habitat, it is easy to become discouraged.
The 12 percent cut at the Department of Interior, for example, would trim $1.5 billion from things such as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. The U.S. Department of Agriculture budget would be cut by 21 percent, or $4.7 billion, and the Environmental Protection Agency budget would be cut by 31 percent, or $2.6 billion.
The numbers are straightforward, but the long-term damages to our shared pastime are hard to cogitate, especially for sportsmen, a user group that takes pride in helping pay the bills for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
Hope, however, can be found here in Idaho, where sportsmen stepped up to the plate to increase fees on themselves for the greater benefit of our wildlife.
On March 17, the Idaho Senate unanimously approved a fee increase for hunters and anglers, the first undivided vote of its kind. If the bill is signed by Gov. Butch Otter, as expected, the fee increase will include a $5 fee on all licenses that will be used to pay for crop losses that come with healthy game herds. It will also mean that occasional license buyers, those who don’t buy a license or tag annually, would be charged 20 percent more. Die-hard hunters would be rewarded by being spared the additional cost.
Also in the mix, there is a new account created by Fish and Game to help buy access for hunters and anglers. Basically, unspent depredation funds will benefit hunters and anglers in the end.
Twelve years in the making, the fee bill seemed dead on arrival in February, when Rep. Marcus Gibbs said he wouldn’t address a fee increase unless the bill made concessions to ranchers who were suffering heavy damage from extreme winter weather. Officials with Idaho Department of Fish and Game turned to the Idaho Farm Bureau for help.
The work on the fee bill is less visible than the show of sportsmen might at a public lands rally in Boise earlier this month, but it is more earth-shattering. The Idaho Farm Bureau and hunters and anglers of every stripe joined together to bring much-needed financial relief to the wildlife department, which hadn’t had a resident fee increase since 2005. And, overcoming decades of animosity, the Idaho Legislature finally gave cash-strapped wildlife managers a dose of critical revenue, while also addressing the complaints of ranchers who suffer when hungry elk, deer and pronghorns raid their crops or haystacks.
The win represents seismic shifts in Idaho politics, and we will all benefit for decades to come.
We can only hope that Congress will look at the most recent example in Idaho, where constituents again showed their willingness to fund things that matter.
Rob Thornberry is the Idaho Field Representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. This article initially appeared at trcp.org.