Wildlife management not a game
By Jack W. Fisher
Idaho's politicians have undermined what voters intended when they passed a 1938 Fish and Game initiative. It's time to restore that system. Why do we need an initiative to select Fish and Game commissioners? Why do we want to go back to the 1938 Initiative as a model for our 2002 Initiative? Why do we want to have only five regions and five commissioners in the state? Why do we want six-year terms of office? Why is the provision that the governor can only fire a commissioner for "cause" so important? Why is not having a political balance on the commission important? And finally, why is it important that we create Citizen Wildlife Advisory councils in each region to select nominees from which the governor must select the commissioner to represent each region? Why, we ask?
Because these are the changes that are needed to make our Fish and Game commission system whole again and demand that it get back to managing Idaho's wildlife and natural resources for fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation benefiting future generations as its first concern.
The 1938 Initiative was created because the people got fed up with the process. Every time they got a new governor, they got a new Fish and Game Department from director clear down to the local game wardens, with little regard for any qualifications in managing wildlife. It was realized then that Idaho's wildlife should be managed for the benefit of all of its residents, not just those who currently happened to be in power.
That premise is still valid today. But we have regressed to the pre-1938 era in many ways and have killed the autonomy that was given to the commission to manage the state's wildlife. Today, the governor believes it is his right to set the policy for our state wildlife managers and that they should "all speak with one voice," his voice. We do not agree with this approach. This is, again, pre-1938 thinking.
For 58 years, the main thrust of the 1938 Initiative was upheld by a long list of governors who believed that Fish and Game commissioners should have the autonomy to set the state's wildlife policy, and set the rules and regulations to implement said policy. This has changed dramatically in the past eight years. Today, the governor calls in his handpicked commissioners two by two and sets the policy. They no longer have the autonomy or the responsibility to manage the state's wildlife resources and thus have lost the credibility that should go along with their position.
Why should commissioners not serve at the pleasure of the governor? This is what we had prior to 1938. It did not work. Removing a commissioner for cause is appropriate. Removing a commissioner simply because he does not agree with a governor's policy and will not conform to the mold is totally inappropriate.
Where in this process are the views of the residents of Idaho involved in
doing anything concerning the management of "their" wildlife? Let us not forget that the wildlife of this state still belongs to the people, although there are some who would change even that.
When any resident takes the time to go to a Fish and Game Commission public hearing and gets three minutes to bring up some issue that is important to the attention of the commission, there should be some consideration given as to the merit of the input. All too often, many of the current commissioners do not listen and do not hear people's concerns. After taking two hours of testimony at an evening public hearing, many people will be appalled to know that as the first order of business at the next morning's meeting, the Fish and Game Commission rarely takes more than one minute to cover it.
Couple this with an occasional overheard remark such as, "I really didn't want their opinion," and you come to realize that we really do need to have input into selecting our commissioners.
The creation of the Citizen Wildlife Advisory Council in each region will give the commissioner selection process to the people of that region. If you get a bad commissioner from your region, you probably did not work hard enough to insure that your region made good choices. Your CWAC will be elected during those years when there is to be a commissioner selected in your region. Initially, all five commissioners will be selected in 2003. Two will be appointed for two years, two for four years and one for six years. Subsequently, all appointments will be for six years. The purpose of this is to insure that no governor can appoint all five commissioners in one term of office.
Why five regions? Again, it worked well for 58 years. During that time, it was the responsibility of the commissioners to be knowledgeable of the wildlife issues and problems of the whole state. In today's world, a number of the commissioners has demonstrated that its primarily interest is in micro managing its own region to the detriment of the rest of the state. Some do not regard the recommendations of the regional biologists as proper science and insert their own - in many cases - misguided judgment in place of scientific analysis. We must change that and once again get back to managing the state's wildlife resources in the best interests of the wildlife and the residents of Idaho.
Some say that Region III will have nearly half the population of the state and should have more representation. Others say Region V is too large of a land mass and needs more representation. We say the purpose of the Fish and Game Commission is to manage the wildlife of the state, not the people. The regions set down in the 1938 Initiative fairly split up the state as far as wildlife is concerned, and they are still valid today. The residents of a given region will get better wildlife management in their region if they have five commissioners concerned about their wildlife than if they have only one.
Why no political balance in the commissioners? In our view, it is not important what the political stripe of a good, well-informed, knowledgeable commissioner is as long as he or she is serving the best interests of the wildlife and the residents of Idaho. In an attempt to minimize political control of the commission, it would be inappropriate for this question to ever be asked in the CWAC process or by the governor.
We have removed the Senate confirmation process of commissioners for the simple reason that it is not necessary, and it inserts political influence back into the selection process that we make every effort to minimize. The residents of Idaho will have the conformation power with this initiative, and can and will remove a commissioner if they are not doing what is best for wildlife.
The sportsmen, the conservation organizations and the residents of Idaho have been responding in a very positive manner to this proposed initiative. It is time for the control of Idaho's wildlife resources to come back to the people. We need your support now.
Jack Fisher is president of the Idaho Wildlife Federation.
Reprinted from The Idaho Post Register.