OPINION: Sportsmen’s gift to conservation

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  • Erpelding

  • 1

    Heider

  • Erpelding

  • 1

    Heider

Getting a fishing or hunting license is a rite of passage for thousands of Idaho boys and girls. While it seems like a small thing (a combined hunting and fishing license in Idaho costs $33.50 according to Fish and Game), those licenses, tags and permits are more than just a piece of paper. Not only do they provide the user with an entrée into Idaho’s unmatched natural beauty, they provide millions of dollars to the state to maintain that beauty for generations to come.

As co-chairs of the Idaho Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, we find it necessary to extend an enormous debt of gratitude to our hunters and anglers. Saturday, Sept. 23, marks the 46th annual National Hunting and Fishing Day. The critical contributions these sportsmen and women make to our economy and professional fish and wildlife management in Idaho ensure we will enjoy access to our hunting and angling traditions now and into the future.

Eighty years ago, the hunting community initiated the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF) with the passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson Act). The act directed excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to a dedicated fund to be used specifically for conservation purposes. Revenue from sportsmen’s licenses was also linked to conservation through the establishment of this program. The ASCF has expanded to include the fishing, boating and archery communities through the passage of subsequent legislation. These critical conservation dollars fund a variety of efforts including: enhanced fish and wildlife habitat and populations, recreational access to public and private lands, shooting ranges and boat access facilities, wetlands protection and its associated water filtration and flood retention functions, and improved soil and water conservation — all which benefit the American public. Amazingly, Idaho is one of only four states to officially recognize the 80th anniversary of the ASCF through proclamation. Given how many billions of dollars this system has provided for conservation over the years, the ASCF should receive more recognition than it does.

Consider this. In 2016 alone, the sale of Idaho hunting and fishing licenses generated more than $32.5 million in revenue. Nearly $21.3 million was brought into the state from excise taxes collected from the sale of hunting and fishing equipment. All of this revenue goes to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to manage our fish and wildlife for the enjoyment of all Idahoans. In case you didn’t know, those dollars finance a lot of services you might otherwise take for granted:

• Three hundred and thirty-six fishing and boating access sites to Idaho’s lakes, which total 469,045 acres of open water.

• The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s (IDFG) Access Yes! Program, created in 2003, has opened 359,378 private acres and 470,735 additional public acres for hunting, fishing, trapping and other recreational access.

In 2015, for the first time in nearly 40 years, a chinook salmon fishing harvest season was opened on the Upper Salmon River, opening 184 miles of salmon fishing for Idaho’s anglers.

America’s most famous presidential outdoorsman once noted, “It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” We have to wonder if Theodore Roosevelt may have had Idaho in mind when he said that. Just remember, that for every license or tag you buy, for every fishing pole or rifle, you not only enhance your outdoor experience in Idaho, but everyone else’s in an “incalculable” way.

• • •

Rep. Mat Erpelding is the Democratic House Minority Leader. He is in his third term representing District 19. Erpelding is a licensed outfitter and guide in Idaho.

Sen. Lee Heider is in his fourth term in the Idaho State Senate representing District 24.

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