October 20, 2019

Idaho Fish and Game’s Blind Ignorance

This morning I was reading the “Critter News”, an electronic news report that get sent to a small contingency of readers. The editor provided a link to a story in the Magic Valley news online (subscription). The title of the article is, “Decline in Hunting-license Sales Sinks Conservation Money”.

As I began to read, it was about 50 words into the story that this quote from Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s (IDFG) regional conservation officer Gary Hompland, appeared.

“Fishing licenses have stayed relatively steady as far as the numbers of licenses sold,” regional conservation officer Gary Hompland said. “Most of that, from what we can tell, is because we’ve had some really good salmon and steelhead runs the last few years.”

From this point on Hompland laments about the drop in hunting license sales. While it appears from Hompland’s perspective, fishing license sales is very cut and dry; lots of fish equals lots of fishing licenses sold. Evidently this same theory doesn’t hold true for hunting.

According to Hompland, the loss of hunting license sales is having a devastating effect on the budget at IDFG and evidently the reasons are varied and have nothing to do with a lack of game to hunt. Here’s the list of excuses:

1.) According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey information, hunting license sales have declined since 1975. So, it’s a trend but no reasons given as to what drives that “trend”.

2.) IDFG attempted to lesson the blow by stating three other states, Rhode Island, California and Iowa, as having a greater decline in sales than Idaho.

3.) A “dour economy” as it is called by Hompland.

4.) And, “changing demographics of hunters”.

5.) Lack of new hunter recruitment “like we used to”.

6.) More single-parent families result in fewer hunters.

All of these items seem to be contributing factors to the decline of hunting and evidently none of them effect fishing. But what’s even more transparently ignorant is to think that when it comes to fishing, it’s all about how many fish there are to catch but when it comes to hunting, it’s about everything else except how much game there is to shoot.

Idaho is not alone. Several states face budget problems and some of that is due to a decline in license sales. The state of Maine is one such state. As a matter of fact they formed a dreaded “task force” to study why nobody from out of state wants to go to Maine to hunt anymore. The task force acknowledged the fact that Maine’s deer population has disappeared, especially in those regions where the out-of-state hunters went for trophy game. Instead of working to deal with that problem, the opted, as I guess we are seeing here in Idaho, to not necessarily deny there’s a game problem but find every excuse other than that for the decline in hunting licenses sold.

Tom Remington

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What Will Maine’s Hunter Task Force Recommend To Bring Hunters Back?

Reports are that the Nonresident Hunter Task Force will formally submit recommendations to the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on January 23, 2012. George Smith gives readers a glimpse into what he believes the Task Force’s recommendations will be.

In brief those recommendations or perhaps what they will NOT recommend, might look like this:

1. Will NOT recommend Sunday hunting.
2. Recommend to allow nonresident hunters to hunt on residents only day. (What will we name that day?)
3. Recommend a more equitable means of distributing Any-Deer Permits and Moose Lottery Permits.
4. Recommend better and/or different marketing strategies to bring hunters to the state to hunt turkeys, upland birds, ducks and rabbits.

Missing from Smith’s report and presumably missing from any recommendations we can expect by this task force, is increased efforts to control predators that are seriously limiting hunting opportunities for deer. As I’ve written many times before, the overwhelming majority of hunting licenses sold in Maine are to hunt deer. While it’s a good recommendation to market Maine’s other hunting opportunities, Maine is only kidding itself if they think they can somehow replace lost license revenue by promoting bunny hunting (isn’t killing bunnies competing directly with the “threatened” lynx population whose main diet is bunnies?).

Even an obligatory and cursory mention that the Task Force recognizes the need to grow whitetail deer would at least acknowledge they do see this as a problem. However, reading and studying the minutes of the Task Force meetings, the objective appeared to be to ignore that problem and concentrate on trying to hide it from potential or past nonresident hunting license holders.

As Smith points out, “most of the recommendations can (unfortunately) be placed in the category of wishful thinking”, does this then show what a waste of time and effort it all was? Can we collectively compute all the accomplishments of the numerous “task forces” the Maine Government has assembled to “solve” fish and game problems and fit them with room to spare into a sewing thimble? Perhaps another task force to determine if previous task forces have been productive?

Government in action!


Photo Editorial by Richard Paradis

Tom Remington

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Maine Legislative Task Force Disregards Real Problem With Drawing Hunters to the State

Imagine, if you can, that you will take the family to visit Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. You’ve gleaned the brochures, read about the park, contacted the Office of Tourism to get information about lodging, meals, etc. and have been convinced that a trip to Downeast Maine in mid July would be a great investment and a wonderful experience for everyone.

Summer comes, final plans are made and the car is packed. The drive takes about 12 hours but the anticipation is great. Everything the family has read and heard and even pictures viewed attributes to the building anticipation.

Finally, on the first day, you drive the wife and kids to the park and you visit the Welcome Center, once again picking up brochures and looking at maps, all that touristy stuff. You even take the time to view the movie in the theater. But when you and your family emerge from the darkness of the theater, it is only then that you discover that’s it. This is all there is to see and do in Acadia National Park. You question an information employee and they tell you that having attractions in the park is part of a long-term plan that hopefully funding will become available so that eventually they can build roads and put out picnic tables, etc.

As inane as this all seems, it appears this is what the recommendations will be like when the Maine Legislative Task Force, commissioned to figure out why Maine has seen such a drastic decline in game license sales, presents its findings.

The minutes to the final officially scheduled Task Force meeting of November 20, 2011 have become public information now and these minutes gives us a glimpse at what the Task Force will recommend to the Maine Legislature. Oddly, those recommendations were due on December 1, 2011. (Note: At the time of this writing, those minutes had not been posted on the MDIFW website. Check this link to see if they have.)

It is no secret that the overwhelming attraction for hunters to Maine has been the opportunity to hunt whitetail deer. One can argue that perhaps the state hasn’t done a good enough job promoting the resources available to hunt other game species, however, you just can’t ignore that fact.

If the majority of people visit Acadia National Park because their main focus is to see Thunder Hole or drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain and either or both of those elements of the park disappeared, who would still want to come? Yes, the National Park Service can mount a campaign to get visitors to come because there are other things to do and see, but it would remain a major obstacle to overcome and pretending the Mountain or Hole is still there and the Park Service is doing all it can to get them back, will do little to bring visitors until it actually happens.

This is how I see the Task Force attempting to address a problem with lack of hunting license sales. There are no deer to speak of in Maine. The herd is in trouble, and while the vast majority of hunting license buyers want to hunt deer, expending nonexistent money and resources to convince them to come to Maine anyway and hunt other things and do other activities besides hunt whitetail deer is nothing more than a huge denial. Hey, here’s an idea. Let’s use the same resources and money to build the deer herd and THEN go invite participants! Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) complains they can’t do this or that to help the deer herd because there is no money, then why, if this Task Force thinks it can find money to promote other things to do with hunting, funds can’t be found to kill more coyotes and improve habitat?

In the final meeting minutes, of which comprises 14 pages, the ONLY mention of the major attraction gets two and one half lines:

7. We need to educate people on what DIF&W is doing to increase the deer herd. Stop sending the negative messages and send the positive messages of what we are doing to address the problem.

I’m afraid that’s it! And then the next page and a half is spent addressing how to market all the other things Maine has to offer. I’m not saying that this Task Force hasn’t come up with ideas and suggestions that probably would help attract visitors IF THERE WERE DEER TO HUNT! Get it? DEER – DEER – DEER – DEER! That’s what it’s all about. A nonresident hunter might want a hot tub to play in at night or Wi-Fi but it’s still all about deer! Have you ever seen a ski resort draw a crowd when there is no snow? Didn’t think so.

As I illustrated at the very beginning, people are drawn to certain things. Whether it’s Magic Kingdom at Disney, Thunder Hole in Acadia or Old Faithful in Yellowstone, if those attractions comprise an overwhelming majority of what the people want to see and those are taken away, these attractions will suffer greatly until they are brought back or something better to replace them.

It appears, for whatever the reasons, this Task Force is either unable or unwilling to see clearly that having no deer to hunt is a problem. If you want to open a theme park, it is strongly recommended that the first thing you do is develop a theme. There must be a focus of what the attraction will be. Whitetail deer are the focus of attraction for hunting in Maine. Yes, the turkey hunting, grouse hunting and bear hunting might be some of the best around but it does little when the majority want deer to hunt. It’s a simple concept really.

I understand the complexity of resolving the lack of deer problem. What I don’t understand is the skirting of the issue by this task force. Because the Legislature decided who would be able to sit on this task force, perhaps the make up is too heavily empowered by governmental agencies and representatives that most participants fear addressing this issue. I just don’t know.

There are no “regular sportsmen” on this panel; only guides and outfitters. While I understand the focus of this task force is to determine why nonresidents aren’t coming to Maine to hunt, don’t Maine resident hunters/sportsmen have something to say about it?

It makes little sense to me and has positioned itself to become nothing more than just another governmental bureaucratic waste of time and resources to say and recommend things that sound good and make our hearts beat a bit faster for a moment.

I think it would be a reasonable recommendation to make that Maine first built the roller coaster ride and then sell tickets for the ride. Doesn’t that really make sense?

Tom Remington

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