In 1938 the citizens of Idaho overwhelmingly voted to depoliticize wildlife management by forming the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Almost 80 years ago, those citizens embraced the public trust doctrine in wildlife management, identifying trustees, the commission and the beneficiaries — the citizens of Idaho — as well as the assets: the state’s wildlife resources.
The trustees of these resources must be selfless, avoiding favoritism and any personal conflict of interest. Today’s commissioners, as well as those before them, have fulfilled each of these requisites through their devotion to protect, preserve, perpetuate and manage Idaho’s great wildlife resources.
The seven commission members epitomize public service, devoting countless volunteer hours to Idaho’s fish and wildlife. They ensure that its management is perpetrated by the skilled and knowledgeable staff of the Idaho Fish and Game Department. It is this agency and its commission who provide hunting, angling and trapping opportunities for the young and old and everyone in between. Under the direction of past and current commissions, we in Idaho have been blessed with salmon and steelhead fishing, fishable populations of sturgeon throughout the Snake River, abundant whitetail and mule deer populations, and some of the best elk hunting in the West, as well as plentiful upland bird species. We as Idahoans are very fortunate to have these opportunities.
In choosing not to reappoint Commissioners Mark Doerr and Will Naillon, however, Gov. Butch Otter has penalized these commissioners for taking a stand in support of publicly owned wildlife and the sportsmen who fund wildlife programs. The commission was formed to remove politics from wildlife management. Gov. Otter’s actions are clearly intended — and have succeeded — in subverting that objective. The citizen initiative, voted on and instituted into law in 1938, is being undermined in the very fashion the public trust doctrine seeks to avoid: by the selfishness, favoritism and multiple conflicts of interest not only of Gov. Otter but of several members of the Idaho Legislature.
The continued underhanded tactics of members of the Legislature threaten the Gem State’s system of wildlife management and each of the species protected by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Threats to our wildlife resources come from all directions; however, the internal strong-arming by members of Legislature’s resource committees seem to be the most troubling.
Events like this brought together the citizens of Idaho in 1938. Today, we citizens of Idaho must join together — as hunters, anglers, trappers, wildlife enthusiasts and all those who love wild places and wild things — to reiterate our support of the citizen initiative and our belief in the public trust doctrine. It is clear that our Legislature and governor are favoring third parties by penalizing members of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. These actions by our elected officials raise a red flag for Idaho sportsmen and women. We must educate ourselves on the issues, discuss them with our representatives and actively engage to ensure that our voices are heard.
Ian Malepeai is a public lands sportsman and co-chair of the Idaho chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He lives in Boise.