Idaho guided hunting issue still smolders

2012-01-29T00:00:00Z Idaho guided hunting issue still smoldersROB THORNBERRY Idaho Falls Post Register The Billings Gazette
January 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

In 1988, Idaho officials wrestled with a simple question: Should the state allow guided hunting for waterfowl and turkeys?

At the time, the interested parties -- including the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board and the Idaho Outfitter and Guides Association -- set a May 1989 deadline to resolve the issue.

More than two decades later, the topic still bedevils.

Professional guides and landowners argue guided turkey and waterfowl hunting will create jobs and provide hunting opportunities on land already closed to regular hunters.

Hunters are dead set against the idea. They believe guiding will lead landowners to charge fees on properties currently open to hunters. That will lead to fewer places to hunt and more crowding on public land, they say.

To break the loggerhead, officials are trying to survey 4,000 private landowners. The survey should be completed in the coming days.

"We want to get a perspective about how landowners use their lands for hunting and if there are any commercial entities already involved," said Jake Howard, executive director of the licensing board.

Simply put, if the survey finds landowners have already closed their property to Joe Blow hunter, it could pave the way to allowing for guided hunting in the future.

"One of the arguments for allowing guiding is that land was already being leased and the days of knocking on doors to ask for permission are gone forever," said Jeff Knetter, a Fish and Game staff biologist who has participated in the guiding debate for years. "The survey could answer that question."

Once the survey is complete, Howard said the licensing board will make a proposal, which will be completely vetted by the public. The licensing board makes the final decision, not Fish and Game.

"We need to make a decision one way or another," he said. "We can't say no because no is the only answer."

Like Howard and Knetter, Nampa's Bryce Cook is waiting eagerly for the survey results.

Cook is a member of the Idaho Waterfowl Association, which represents 70 waterfowl hunters who are against guided hunting for ducks, geese and turkeys.

"We are against any expansion of waterfowl guiding on private or public land," he said. "We are against it primarily because of loss of access and limited opportunity already. There is no need to commercialize it more."

Cook argues that allowing for guided hunting will have a trickle-down effect where more and more land is locked up and nonguided hunters will eventually have no other way to hunt than to pay.

"Look at pheasant hunting in South Dakota," he said. "You can't get any good access without paying a guide. Does Idaho want that?"

Like Howard, Knetter said the survey results and any subsequent proposal will get a complete public airing before any decision is made.

A final decision on the issue could come this year.

Or it could come 20 years from now.

With this issue, you never know.


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