"All wildlife, including all wild animals, wild birds, and fish, within the state of Idaho, is hereby declared to be the property of the state of Idaho. It shall be preserved, protected, perpetuated, and managed. It shall be only captured or taken at such times or places under such conditions, or by such means, or in such manner, as will preserve, protect, and perpetuate such wildlife, and provide for the citizens of this state and, as by law permitted to others, continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping."
The mission statement for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is this...
"To preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities."
The mission statement for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is this...
"Our mission is to protect and enhance Oregon's fish and wildlife and their habitats for use and enjoyment by present and future generations."
The mission statement for the Missouri Department of Conservation is this...
"To protect and manage the forest, fish, and wildlife resources of the state and to facilitate and provide opportunities for all citizens to use, enjoy and learn about these resources."
The mission statement for the Arkansas Department of Game and Fish is this...
" The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's mission is to conserve and enhance Arkansas's fish and wildlife and their habitats while promoting sustainable use, public understanding and support."
I wanted to share a few of those mission statements for a few state fish and game agencies. There is often times great differences in the nuance of seemingly benign statements.
Idaho's mission statement is found in the State of Idaho's Wildlife Policy. From that you can see that the state makes a claim to own all wildlife in the state and it is to be preserved, protected, perpetuated and managed. That's first half of it and then the second half essentially speaks to the constituency that the department serves. Obviously, any reader of the Salmon Blog knows I believe they serve a different constituency, one that has great influence over the legislature and the governor and that is agriculture (ranchers, etc.). But not to get too far off track, this statement clearly says the wildlife is all owned by the state, which by default means by the citizens of the state, but that the preservation, protection, perpetuation and management of the wildlife is being done for hunters, anglers and trappers. It says it right up there.
There is a reason for that and it is because the funding model for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is like many other states essentially derived from user fees (hunting and fishing licenses) and what they get from those big ole federal programs derived from Pittman-Robertson (federal excise tax on guns and many things hunting, began in the 1930s) and Dingell-Johnson (excise tax on many things fishing, began in the 1950s).
I really liked the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife mission until I read the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife mission, which is better because they added future generations, which we could infer in the Washington statement, but they don't just come out and say it. Way to Oregon, that's weighty stuff, throwing in that whole responsibility we have to future generations. I always loved that quote from Wendell Berry (writing about Kentucky's Red River Gorge BTW), "a man who knows that the world was not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children."
I then threw in MIssouri and Arkansas for you. I did this because Missouri has been funded by a 1/8 of a cent sales tax since 1976 that goes on top of those user fees and federal funds and Arkansas added the sales tax model in 1996. I want you to note the difference between Missouri and Idaho and their mission statements.
Idaho's basically they are doing whatever they do for hunters, anglers and trappers. By the way, there was 6 percent participation in hunting nationwide and 14 percent participation in fishing nationwide in the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Now, for argument sake, I concede that participation rates for fishing and hunting in Idaho are higher than the national average (even if they aren't). That survey also noted that there is 29 percent participation nationwide in wildlife watching and that also happens a lot in the Gem state.
Now let's break down the Missouri mission statement. They begin by defining that want to protect the forest (habitat), fish and wildlife resources of the state. Very good, this is similar to all mission statements of similar agencies. Then the Missouri mission ends with "to facilitate and provide opportunities for all citizens to use, enjoy and learn about these resources." They are working for everyone, not just the hunters, anglers and trappers, but everyone. Is it because they get funding from everyone that they can be magnanimous in their mission? Or do they simply realize that the trends are and have been moving toward more and more people enjoying wildlife and nature without taking from it? Well, deep down in my marrow I'm a journalist, so I go with the money argument over some altruistic moment of clarity by bureaucrats tasked with coming up with a mission statement.
Now I ask this question, would not the flora and fauna of Idaho and the citizens herein be better served by a broader mission statement for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game? Yes, I know this topic gets feathers and dander up among some hunters, trappers and anglers and I know there has been some discussions along these lines within IDFG and in that big ole summit last year.
I buy a hunting and fishing license yearly and I buy the salmon and steelhead permits quite often and then sometime in late December I usually say to myself, "Wow, I really should have gone out more." Anyway, it is not sound policy to run any government agency as you would a clique in high school. I am not saying that IDFG is running their organization that way, though I am saying there are hunters, trappers and anglers who are really threatened by the notion that their special status could be taken away with a rewrite of the IDFG's mission statement and who are essentially demanding that the IDFG be run like a high school clique. I do also see where the Fish and Game Commission for the most part pretty much does the bidding of ranchers and their boss Otter. That's my opinion, but if you are paying attention it's kind of hard to see any separation and yes, there should be separation, it should be an independent body that ultimately answers to 1.634 million Idahoans and to sound wildlife, fisheries and ecological science.
It is a sad shame that state fish and game agencies can get so wrapped up in the mechanisms of politics that they ultimately no longer function even as their limited mission statement from 1938 says they should, but it is a reality.
I propose a three-pronged solution. First and foremost, the Fish and Game Commission needs to be insulated from the politics within the executive and legislative branches so they can make better decisions. Secondly, and perhaps more difficult than achieving the first goal would be establishing a new dedicated sales tax or redirecting a portion of sales tax revenue that is solely dedicated to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to enhance their budget and broaden their reach beyond hunting, trapping and fishing. And finally, they need an actual mission statement, and not something that kind of sounds like one in a policy written in 1938. That mission statement can mention hunters, trappers and anglers, but it should also include all citizens because today as it will be tomorrow or whenever this would happen all the wildlife and fish in this state are owned by all the citizens and therefore they should have a voice in the preservation, perpetuation, protection and management of all of the wildlife and fish in the state of Idaho.
This overt hatred and distrust of environmental groups that creates great tension anytime someone forward-thinking tries to secure a sustainable future for the agency tasked with the preservation, protection, perpetuation and management of this state's fish and wildlife is counter-productive, reactionary and pointless. And politicians who play off that known hatred and distrust to score votes and funding (or to pass illegal laws aimed at infuriating and handcuffing their political enemies in environmental or conservation communities) at the cost of proper fish and wildlife management, protection, preservation and perpetuation are shameless peddlers who do not belong in the public arena.
Create an agency that receives its funding from everyone who spends money in the state, is insulated from the rash political environment and is inclusive. Because the only sustainable way to perpetuate proper management, protection and preservation into the future is to do so with the acceptance and participation of all the people and not just a shrinking constituency.
We are all Americans and we are all Idahoans and our government institutions should reflect that.
But that's just me, a guy who isn't afraid of environmentalists, conservationists, hunters, anglers or trappers. I also lived in Missouri for a decade and the Missouri Department of Conservation kicks ass.