Idaho hunters bag more game, but wildlife agency struggling
BOISE, Idaho — Efforts by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to boost deer and elk hunting have succeeded, but the agency’s financial situation remains difficult and fee increases are needed, its director said recently.
Virgil Moore said Idaho hunters last season had the highest harvest levels of elk and deer in the last 25 years following efforts to boost herd numbers of the species that account for much of the agency’s revenue.
But Moore told the Idaho Fish and Game Commission while presenting the agency’s annual report that the agency faces challenges. From 2009 to 2011 the agency reduced staff, cut resident fish hatchery production 20 percent, and cut back on deferred maintenance.
“At the same time, I recognized that our core product was deer and elk,” he said during a break in Thursday’s meeting. “So we shifted even declining resources to that.”
In 2015, Idaho hunters killed nearly 70,000 deer and about 25,000 elk, numbers not matched since the 1990s.
The agency relies on revenue from licenses, tags and permits to cover operational costs and does not receive general state tax dollars. However, those fees haven’t increased in roughly 13 years.
Among 11 western states, Idaho has the lowest cost for a resident to fish and hunt deer, and is the second lowest to hunt elk.
Moore said last year the agency sold out all its non-resident tags. He said additional revenue could come from more resident hunters, but those products are much lower in cost.
Moore said the agency again this year is hoping legislation will be introduced on an idea called Price Lock. The agency on its website says most resident licenses, tags and fees would increase between $1 and $6 in 2018 if the Price Lock is approved
But hunters and anglers would be able to lock in 2017 prices by continuing to buy a license each year.
Similar proposals have stalled in the Statehouse since the agency first pitched to lawmakers in 2014, with lawmakers disagreeing over the best method for the department to increase revenue.
The Legislature in 2012 gave authority to the Fish and Game Commission — which supervises the department — to auction up to 12 “Governor’s Wildlife Partnership” big-game tags, including three each for deer, elk and pronghorn and one each for bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat.
After the commission didn’t take action, Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter declined to reappoint two members who opposed issuing more auction tags. Two new members have since been appointed and took part in Thursday’s commission meeting. But before their appointments become official, they must first be approved by lawmakers.
At a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, Jerry Meyers of North Fork and Greg Cameron of Rupert, didn’t make definitive statements on their views of auction tags.