Idaho Sportsmen's groups want to trim political influence on


Mar 11, 2001
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Frustration sparks drive to give F&G more freedom
Vote could trim political control of commission

By Roger Phillips and Rocky Barker, The Idaho Statesman


Angered by the resignation of Fish and Game Director Rod Sando, wildlife advocates say they want to give voters a chance to reduce political meddling in the protection of Idaho´s wild critters.

The Idaho Wildlife Federation, supported by other groups around the state, will submit a proposed voter initiative petition to the secretary of State´s office today that they say would limit the governor´s role in appointments to the Fish and Game Commission.

The initiative, if placed on the ballot, also would eliminate the requirement for Senate confirmation, reduce the number of commissioners and ensure public involvement in commission nominations.

"I think it provides the first opportunity in a generation for everyone who cares about wildlife to work together," said Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.

Fish and Game has a 511-person staff and a $63 million budget. It is funded almost entirely through the sale of fishing and hunting licenses and federal money. It receives no money from the state general fund.

The Fish and Game Department manages more than fish people catch and game people shoot. Its involvement in debates about how to save federally protected endangered species such as salmon and grizzly bears have broad land- and water-management implications that directly affect farmers and ranchers.

Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching also play an important role in Idaho´s $2 billion tourism and recreation industry -- the third-largest in the state.

The uproar over Sando´s resignation and the stormy reconfirmation hearing for Sandpoint Commissioner Nancy Hadley have united wildlife supporters like no issue since passage of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness protection in 1980.

For the petition to succeed, proponents must gather 43,685 signatures from registered voters by April 30 and get a majority vote in November´s general election. But before that can begin, Idaho Attorney General Alan Lance must review the initiative´s constitutionality.

Initiative organizers say the it would return the commission to the traditional independence provided in the 1938 voter initiative that established it. That initiative placed the Idaho Department of Fish and Game under the commission instead of the governor.

"We´ve considered an initiative for a couple years because we haven´t liked what´s going on," said Jack Fisher, president of the Idaho Wildlife Federation.

Commissioners set policy for the department, which is responsible for managing the state´s wildlife and setting regulations for Idaho´s 350,000 hunters and anglers.

One commissioner expressed his support.

"It doesn´t surprise me," F&G Commissioner Don Clower of Meridian said. "The sportsmen of this state think the commission has been hijacked, and they´re upset about it."

Commissioner Roy Moulton of Driggs said initiative supporters simply want their political views to outweigh their opponents´ political positions on wildlife. He said it was naive to think a system can be developed to shield wildlife policy from politics.

"It occurs to me if you are managing a public resource, then, inherently, you are involved in politics," he said.

The F&G commission also hires and supervises the F&G director, who runs the day-to-day operation of the agency. The current commission voted unanimously to hire Sando in January 2000, then split 4-3 over his pay raise in November.

Sando resigned last week, citing "philosophical differences" between him and the commission.

Sporting groups have accused the governor´s office and the Legislature of pressuring Sando to resign.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and his staff have repeatedly denied direct involvement in Sando´s resignation.

But House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, told the Associated Press the governor´s office was a participant in the events leading to Sando´s resignation.

"He´s (Kempthorne is) very much in the loop on Sando," Newcomb said. "Basically, that´s where the call came from."

Mark Snider, Kempthorne´s press secretary, said Wednesday that he would not respond to the speaker through the newspaper.

Snider said F&G commissioners routinely talk to the governor on a variety of resource topics.

"They often come by to talk to the governor´s staff when they´re at their meetings in Boise," Snider said.

That did not occur with other governors, according to former Commissioner Richard Meiers of Eagle. Meiers served 10 years on the commission under Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt.

"That never, never occurred prior to this administration, even in the Batt administration," he said.

Snider said Kempthorne had no position on the initiative yet.

"If they think they can get the names and get it on the ballot, then that´s their right," Snider said.

BSU political science professor John Freemuth said the initiative could shift the balance of power between the Statehouse and the public.

"It´s not going to remove politics," Freemuth said. "All this does is change the arena of the politics."

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporters Roger Phillips at or 373-6615 or Rocky Barker at or 377-6484.


Current system vs. proposed system
Differences between the existing commission structure and that proposed by the voter initiative:


• Seven commissioners.

* Four-year terms, two-term limit.

* Appointed by governor, confirmed by Senate.

* Serve at the pleasure of the governor, can be fired for any reason.

* No direct public input on nomination process.

Under the proposed voter initiative

* Five commissioners.

* Serve six-year terms, no term limits.

* Nominated by citizens advisory committees, appointed by governor.

* No Senate confirmation required.

* Can be dismissed by governor only "for cause."

* Dismissal requires a public hearing.

What do petition organizers want?

They want to reduce the size of the Fish and Game Commission and expand public involvement in naming commissioners.

How do they plan to do it?

Through the voter initiative process that allows the public to enact laws by a majority vote.

What's next?

Petitioners have to collect 43,685 signatures by April 30 to get the issue on the November ballot.  
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