This was written in collaboration with one of our commissioners due to my requests for transparency in our system.
In 1938 the Idaho Fish and Game Commission was created by voter initiative for the expressed purpose of having a Fish and Game Department free from political manipulation. Now seventy six years later it’s time to see how this principle is holding up over the course of time. To fully understand the state of the commission now, one must look over the last few years. The F & G has always been treated as the bastard child of the legislature but this relationship has degraded to the point that two fish and game commissioners that are celebrated by sportsmen will not be reappointed. Although the commission’s approval with the sportsmen is at an all-time high, Governor Butch Otter has made the highly unusual decision to rid himself of sitting commission chairman Mark Doerr of Twin Falls and sitting vice-chairman Will Naillon of Salmon. In trying to make sense out of such an unprecedented attack on the sportsmen of Idaho, we will venture down the rabbit hole of Idaho politics, complete with the cronyism, self-serving, and special interest that seem to be the common thread in any discussion of the goings on in the Idaho state house. The crux of this dismissal of leadership in the fish and game commission seems to be the continuing rift over (a) taking tags away from the general sportsman to sell to the highest bidder, (b) giving large landowners more tags and letting them market them for financial gain, and finally (c) instituting a bonus point draw system because one legislator wants them. Let us start with a July commission meeting three years ago. The discussion was the Landowner Appreciation Program or (LAP). Mr. Larry Williams (Tree Top Ranches) who owns tens of thousands of acres of prime Idaho wildlife habitat and farm ground had been pushing the commission for more LAP tags. The history of controversy of the LAP program has been going on as long as the program has been in existence. But two new commissioners sitting in on their first meeting and eager to be involved, suggested to supply the landowners with more tags. Commissioners Doerr, Naillon and former commissioner Anderson (region 6) opposed this action informing the new commissioners that this issue was more involved than this simple fix. Other things to consider were, the landowners who not only wanted more tags but whom also wanted to be able to market them for financial gain, and sportsmen whom would most certainly be affected when the surplus population of wildlife was turned over to the landowners to do with as they please. Through the course of conversation the topic died without further resolution. Following the meeting Mr. Williams council Bill Mulder who was attending the meeting sent notice to the legislature condemning the commission for not conceding to the wishes of Tree Top Ranches, even blatantly miss-quoting at least one commissioner presumably to put him in bad light. **As a side note and for future reference, I will add that Tree Top Ranches has never provided hunting access to the average sportsman. Next we will take a look at the issue of auction tags. Although sportsmen have long opposed the auctioning off of tags to the highest bidder, one man doesn’t care to stand in line with the commoners on a level playing field and simply wait for the luck of the draw. Seven years ago Doug Sayer (owner of Premier Technologies) a man with too many political connections to mention, hired lobbyist and former commissioner Jon Watts to institute a Governors tag program in which tags would be taken from non-resident sportsmen and auctioned off, thus creating an avenue to put the wealthy at the front of the line. Mr. Sayer was successful in his mission and legislation was passed. This gave the commission new and un-requested authority to issue up to twelve tags to be put to market. Each year following this new commission authority it has been reviewed and the commission has opted (largely on behalf of sportsmen input) that zero was the number of tags to be distributed to this program. Through an entirely different program, the commission has issued one big horn sheep tag for auction every year since 1988. ** Side note #2, Mr. Sayer has been the purchaser of this tag three times in the last several years, as well as numerus tags in other states. At last, this brings us to bonus points. Although many states have variations of a preference point or bonus point system, they most generally fall into two main principles. (1) You have little or no chance of drawing until those who have been putting in longer than you have drawn. And (2) the longer you put in, the more chances you have to draw (but so does everyone else). While scenario 1 is pretty self-explanatory, scenario 2 requires a little deeper inspection. The latter option does have some merit in the less desired high turnover hunts that one would have decent odds of drawing regardless, but does not help in the most coveted of hunts where the drawing odds are astronomical. Over time the F & G Commission has reviewed point systems and even surveyed the public multiple times, the commission has always reached the same conclusion. They have felt that instituting any such program does little more than sell the applicants false hope and waste sportsmen dollars. There is one legislator however who feels very differently. The largest single vocal proponent of a point system is Representative Mike Moyle (R) of the Eagle/Star area. Representative Moyle has been quoted on at least three separate occasions as saying “I don’t give a fuck what sportsman want, I want bonus points” The last person to repeat this quote of Representative Moye, actually gave it as testimony at the (recorded) January commission meeting in Boise. It was also said in the presence of former fish and game commissioner Fred Trevey (region 2), outgoing commissioner Mark Doerr and fish and game director Virgil Moore. Representative Moyle also gave these words of wisdom to Idaho State Bowhunters President Tad Sherman who even shared the quote on social media. ** No side note to this other than to thank Rep Moyle for his undying dedication of the voice of sportsmen and women. As we try and tie all this together, let us start with the 2014/15 legislative session where the Fish and Game introduced a Fee increase Bill. As a “clean” bill was submitted to the legislature for approval, the legislators ran wild using the departments funding as leverage to pursue the issues of both special interest and personal desires. Legislators attached to the bill, Senator Bert Brackett’s continued interest of unrestricted sale of LAP tags. Senator Brackett has long and openly supported this special interest knowingly with the conflict of interest that he stands to gain personally from it. They also attached the institution of a bonus point system (one guess where this originated). And Senator Steve Bair’s mandatory auction tags. The Fish and Game Commission went on the quick defensive and with then chairman Trevey as architect, and only after the commission ran it by the Governor’s office, issued an op-ed referencing the 1938 voter initiative and opposing this extreme action that could only be viewed as legislative overreach. Outgoing Commissioner Naillon told more than one of the other commission members that he had received a call from a legislator that had informed him that if the commission would concede to the sale of LAP tags then this new funding bill would undoubtedly be approved. The Commission stayed steadfast in their opposition of special interest and the funding increase that had the vast majority of sportsmen support died without ever having chance to make it to the floor of the house or senate. As our timeline moves forward to the summer of 2015, Pertesons Hunting Magazine put out an article on the issues of political overreach in managing sportsmen and wildlife in several western states. Wouldn’t you know it, Idaho’s own Senator Bert Brackett was highlighted in the story regarding his long standing tradition of fighting with Idaho’s Fish and Game Commission and his undying quest to line his pockets with money from the sale of landowner tags. The article fell short of using the term corruption, but suffice to say that Senator Brackett was outraged by the expose’. Lame Duck Commissioner Doerr was also mentioned in the article for his support of the commission process. When the legislative session began, Commissioner Doerr was called into the statehouse with the fish and game’s director for an explanation. What was said in the meeting is (as of now) unknown, other than Senator Bert Brackets’ vow to show the fish and game commission who makes the rules. As the session got underway, several bills were on the docket that seemingly did little more than “poke” at the Idaho Fish and Game and Commission and waste taxpayer dollars. One such bill was introduced to keep the fish and game commissioners from participating in any controlled hunts in the state. This coming about after two commissioners had been drawn for controlled hunts for big horn sheep. During testimony for another bill suggesting that Idaho’s draw system was somehow rigged, Senator Jeff Siddoway (R) of Terreton was not bashful in his implications that the odds of these two drawing tags was just too unlikely to be believed. The commission earlier that fall had instructed the department to survey the sportsmen in their feelings on auction tags. One survey was completely random and sent out to hunters picked completely by chance. Another survey running simultaneously was an online survey. The two surveys brought very different results the first survey when completed showed a very slight support for the commission issuing limited auction tags. The online survey results was a resounding show of opposition to the release of ANY auction tags. The published results were of the random survey and not mixed because the online survey is far more likely to be taken by people that are more involved and stay current in their knowledge of these topics. With the published results showing slight support for the issuance of tags, the fish and game department put it out to the regular winter public meetings and on the agenda to be voted on by the commission at the next meeting. Even though the fish and game department and commission was moving forward with the process, Senator Steve Bair (R) of Blackfoot sponsored legislation mandating that the commission issue twelve tags for auction whether sportsmen wanted them or not. With this new bill in place the commission deferred to the legislature simply because any action taken by the fish and game commission would have been rendered moot with this Senator Bair’s legislation. Senator Bair’s proposal was very contentious even in committee and only narrowly received a print hearing. The writing was on the wall for Senator Bair’s mandatory auction tags. It was no secret that the public didn’t want them and it was a juggernaut for the legislature. The Senator had little choice but to meet with the fish and game commission and put the pressure on them to make sure their auction tag proposal move forward successfully. Senator Bair called for a meeting with Chairman Doerr, Vice-Chair Nallon and Commissioner Fischer, it is said that it was requested that no Fish and Game staff attend but in the end Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore was also extended an invite. Also in attendance were Representative Mike Moyle, Senator Jeff Siddoway and who else but Mr. Doug Sayer, the man with the “special interest” in auction tags. Although no one is talking as to the actual discussion in that meeting, I believe one could safely assume that these commissioners were given stern incentive to come up with Mr. Sayers’s tags. Later in the session, after Both Commissioners Doerr and Naillon had written testimony to the senate opposing some of the legislation designed to poke them in the eye, several members representing both the house and senate marched into the Governor’s office to issue complaint as to the insurrection of two of his appointees. Those with grievances marching into the governor’s office were, Senator Bert Brackett, Senator Steve Bair, Senator Jeff Siddoway, Representative Mike Moyle, Representative Marc Gibbs and Representative Fred Wood. Do we now ask ourselves that out of thirty-five members of the senate and seventy members of the house of representatives, why it is that only a few of these names keep popping up time and time again? Little can be ascertained as to the outcome of the complaints of these legislators other than that both Chairman Doerr and Vice-Chair Naillon were called into the office of Governor Butch Otter. As the Fish and Game Commission members gathered for their quarterly meeting here in Boise, it seemed as if the entire world of sportspeople were collectively on the edge of their seats to see where the auction tag proposal was headed, would they stay the course or start down the path of Utah, catering to a considerably smaller group of sportsmen but one with much deeper pockets? In the end, the Fish and Game Commission as it has done consistently for seventy six years stayed strong. The auction tag proposal died for lack of motion. After that meeting, Larry Williams assistant Lisa (whom apparently went to high school with Commissioner Naillon) was overheard telling the commissioner that he was not going to be reappointed and would miss seeing him. Once again, it is not known if the vice-chair shared this information with the chair (knowing that this would undoubtedly affect them both) given that it would most likely tie Mr. Williams to Governor Otter in the ousting of two men who rose up to fight the fight for wildlife and for sportsmen.
Coincidence? I think not. It’s too bad that our Governor isn’t the cowboy he pretends to be, living by a moral code. Instead, it would seem that he has chosen his legacy to be one of shame.
Parts of these writings stand as hearsay and can seemingly not be verified (at least until the end of June when those commission appointments expire). And you can bet someone will be there to ask those questions and to see what other skeletons fall out of the closet. In the meantime, I would suggest that you all work on voting for candidates that have your desires as a sportsman in mind. Because with these two off the commission leaving the senior member with less than three years’ experience, auction tags, sale of LAP tags, and some form of point system are headed our way in the upcoming legislative session.