BOISE, Idaho -- The leadership of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is planning to hold a statewide conversation with residents about what they want and expect from the agency and how wildlife should be managed.
Just this week, it started mailing postcards to residents advertising the Idaho Wildlife Summit, a three-day event to be held at a Boise hotel next September. Mark Gamblin, supervisor of the department's Southeast Region at Pocatello said the agency wants to make sure it stays relevant in a quickly changing world, keeps pace with the changing views of residents while also continuing to serve its core constituency of hunters, anglers and trappers.
"We have always had a social compact with Idahoans. We have always had a solemn responsibility to manage Idaho's wildlife resources for Idaho residents," he said. "The summit is the kick-off for our desire to be sure the compact we have with Idahoans is understood clearly and we are effectively meeting their needs."
In 1938, Idahoans approved a citizen's initiative that created the Idaho Fish and Game Commission and paved the way for the department of professional wildlife managers. The agency is funded through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, tags and permits, federal excise taxes and grants but does not draw any support from the state's tax-supported general fund. The population has tripled since then, technology has changed the way people live and many people's values about wildlife and expectations about wildlife management have changed.
Department officials have long been vexed with their duty to manage all of the state's wildlife for all the people of Idaho, while only being funded by hunters, anglers and trappers. Gamblin said expanding the funding base of the agency is likely to be discussed, but he insists the summit is not a hidden attempt to push for a fee increase or other form of revenue enhancement.
"It truly is about understanding the public we work for and making sure we are current, contemporary and up-to-date with the people of the state."
Individual issues such as the challenges of managing wolves, reversing declines of elk herds in places like the upper Clearwater and the Sawtooth basins and the recovery of salmon and steelhead populations are likely to be discussed. But Gamblin said the agency wants the discussion to be broader and he doesn't expect it to end at the summit. He acknowledged hunters and anglers may be threatened by the department's efforts to connect with people it doesn't normally hear from and those who don't help pay the bills. But he said they have nothing to worry about.
"This is not about changing fundamentally the roles and responsibilities of the Fish and Game Department for hunting, fishing and trapping," he said. "Those are statutorily defined responsibilities that this agency has and we know those are core values. What we are talking about is what additional services and wildlife management benefits might there be that we can do a better job of providing for the people of Idaho."
He also acknowledged if there are other services the public wants, there will have to be a way to pay for them. Clearwater Region Supervisor Dave Cadwallader said those people who are not traditional constituents might be asked to help the agency find ways to pay for any services they want.
"We are pretty protective about using fishing license dollars and hunting license dollars for some of the non-game stuff. If the public tells us they have an interest in some of that increasing, fine, maybe they need to carry the torch then and what are (their) suggestions because it comes back to funding."
Jerome Hanson, supervisor of the Magic Valley region based in Twin Falls said there will be an effort to harness web technology so people do not have to travel to Boise to participate.
"We want to make it as easy as we can for the public to participate," he said.
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