A bill held hostage

Fish and Game Commission: Politics creeping into fee-increase proposal

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COEUR d'ALENE - The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is concerned that a simple hunting and fishing license fee-increase proposal is getting tainted by politics.

Specifically, commissioners worry that rules allowing wealthier hunters greater access to tags could be added to Fish and Game's fee increase request.

Fish and Game asked the Idaho Legislature to increase resident hunting and fishing license, tag and permit fees, as it has been 10 years since prices have changed. Non-resident fees were increased in 2009.

At Fish and Game's urging, House Bill 32 was created. It would raise costs to resident hunters and fishermen approximately 20 percent, as operation costs have increased by 22 percent since 2005.

The bill also includes a "price lock," which would prevent cost increases for hunters and fishermen who choose to purchase licenses annually.

"There were interests - both within the Legislature and some special interests who were talking with the Legislature - that saw this as an opportunity to attach some different and very specific language to that bill," Fred Trevey, chairman of the Fish and Game Commission, said Friday.

The commission heard the bill will be going from a clean fee-increase proposal to something much more.

"Attached to that bill are some things the Fish and Game Commission takes great issue with," said Brad Corkill, of Cataldo, the commissioner representing the Panhandle region.

Trevey, of Lewiston, said an alternative piece of legislation is being developed.

"We don't know exactly what's in it, and we won't until next week, when that bill becomes public," Trevey said.

In part, the Fish and Game Commission was formed to remove politics from fish and game management.

"What we have is the Legislature directly getting involved in very specific issues that before now have been within the commission's purview," Trevey said.

One item the commissioners hear is being added is a modification to the "landowner appreciation program."

If someone owns significant property in a big-game management unit, where there are only controlled hunts and no general hunts, the owners are given hunting tags because they support so much habitat.

Those tags are transferable to family members, but they cannot be sold.

The commissioners hear some legislators want to allow these landowners to sell the valuable tags to the highest bidder.

The commission conducted a public process and found sportsmen didn't want those tags to be sold.

"What they basically felt is that only the very wealthy had a chance at that," Trevey said.

"I'm staunchly against this," Corkill said.

The landowners, Corkill said, have hired a lobbyist to work the Legislature this year.

The commission heard there will also be an attachment regarding "bonus points."

A bonus-point system rewards hunters who have applied for controlled hunts for several years and have not yet drawn a tag. The more years they enter drawings, the better their odds in following years.

"We did a statistical analysis of this and what the numbers showed was the general hunter is much better off in the lottery than he is in the bonus-points scheme," Trevey said.

The commission also heard legislators want to attach "auction tags" to the fee-increase bill. This would force the commission to put up a specific number of tags for trophy species that go to the highest bidder.

"This commission is opposed to that notion," Trevey said. "What that does is allow a wealthy person to buy their way to the front of the line. We don't think that's an appropriate system for the folks in Idaho."

"They're holding our fee-increase bill hostage with this," Corkill said.

State Rep. Dell Raybould, chairman of the Resources and Conservation Committee, confirmed Friday the fee-increase bill is being held in his committee at the request of the commission.

He said time is running short for new bills and proposals, as the Legislature is approaching the last four weeks of the session.

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d'Alene, a member of the Resources and Conservation Committee, said he hadn't heard about any alternative proposal or attachments.

"That doesn't mean it's not happening," Mendive said Friday.

As for politics getting into the process, he said, "That can happen down here (in Boise)."

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