Thursday, October 11, 2007

A New Solution to Non-Game Program Funding?

On July 3, 2007, a public meeting of an ad hoc committee formed to discuss future funding for IDFG took place at F&G Headquarters in Boise. Chaired by Senate Resource Committee Chairman Gary Schroeder, the members included House Resource Committee Chairman John A. “Bert” Stevenson, Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) Co-Chair Senator Dean Cameron and former F&G Commissioner Representative Fred Wood.

Sen. Schroeder indicated that the Committee was formed in response to Fish and Game’s request for an additional funding source. Three additional members representing the agency’s perspective were F&G Commission Chairman Cameron Wheeler, Vice-Chairman Wayne Wright and IDFG Director Cal Groen.

Comm. Wheeler commented, “We have a more complex society now,” and said he had a feeling that (society’s) priorities are different than they were 15 years ago. This reflected the Department’s justification in its 15-year planning document, “The Compass”, for expanding its traditional role to include managing wildlife and plants for other than hunters, fishermen and trappers.

Game, Fish Programs Cut to Fund Nongame

Commissioner Wright said he viewed the Committee as a great first step to identify and prioritize F&G’s problems, which, he said, include losing critical habitat for game. Then he stated that IDFG has only 25% of the funds needed to fund its non-game activities.

Director Groen’s comments basically agreed with Wheeler’s and Wright’s but he added that the new emphasis on (non-game) “preservation and prevention” during the past 15 years has resulted in less enforcement, less fish stocking and the need to broaden the funding base. He suggested F&G needs to protect traditional hunting and fishing (license) dollars so they are spent for hunting and fishing.

Although it was inevitable under the circumstances, the candid admission by Wright and Groen that IDFG has been using sportsmen’s license dollars to fund the bulk of its non-hunting and fishing activities was “a first”. Recently outgoing Director Steve Huffaker assured Commissioners that no license dollars were being used to fund nongame.

“The Compass” Promise To Sportsmen Ignored

When several Commissioners and Natural Resource Policy Bureau Chief Tracey Trent rewrote The Compass to satisfy sportsmen’s concerns on December 23, 2004, Trent included the following language under “Funding”:

“The Department’s main funding source comes from one segment of the population—hunters and anglers--primarily through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. This money has been—and will continue to be---used to manage fish and wildlife for hunting and fishing.

“The Department will not use hunting and fishing license fees to meet all the desires of the public, other agencies and local governments for managing fish, wildlife and native plants.” (emphasis added)

Despite assurances to the Commission by Idaho Conservation Data Center (CDC) Biodiversity Program Leader Rita Dixon that her group has secured adequate matching funding outside IDFG, thousands of dollars of hunter’s and fishermen’s license money is spent by several F&G Bureaus every day in support of this activity. Much of this money comes in the form of incidental logistical support that is never charged to CDC or any other non-game activity.

Don’t “Beat Dead Horses” – But…

During the July 3, Committee meeting Rep. Wood commented that he hoped the Committee didn’t “beat too many dead horses” and that is good advice if the horses are dead and buried. But continuing to repeat the unsupported claim that the citizens who fund resource management want to change emphasis from providing sustainable harvests of game and fish to building birding trails and interpretive centers and focusing on assorted non-game species indicates the “outlaw horse” still needs attention.

These and other unfunded mandates were imposed on Idaho fish and game managers by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) and their fellow travelers Defenders of Wildlife et al – all based in Washington, D.C. When these groups couldn’t convince Congress to support their biodiversity agenda using terms like “Conservation and Reinvestment Act” and Teaming With Wildlife”, they changed the name to “State Wildlife Grants” (SWGs) and claimed their proposed legislation would save states millions of dollars by preventing assorted creatures and plants from being listed as endangered.

SWGs Encourage New ESA Listings

Instead, some states have improperly* taken additional millions of dollars from sportsmen to use as matching funds, to provide the preservationist groups with the very data that is required for them to petition to list even more species. To add insult to injury, Idaho sport license buyers - not the CDC non-game entity - paid for much of the prolonged research to prevent the Westslope Cutthroat Trout from being listed. (* The SWG funding rules prohibited use of sport license fees or federal excise taxes as matching funds).

This information has been documented by experts in previous Outdoorsman articles and is mentioned here to remind the alternate funding Committee and other Idaho Legislators of what they are being asked to fund. Sen. Cameron is well aware of the implications of seeking additional funding for nongame programs.

Nongame Programs Mushroom in 10 Years

During the 1996 legislative session he argued against JFAC approving funding to hire six nongame biologists “to help non-hunters enjoy the state’s nongame wildlife programs,” insisting it would result in premature need for fee increases. But F&G Finance Chief Steve Barton assured JFAC members that IDFG would have a $2 million surplus In FY 1998 and would remain solvent at least through FY 2000 so they ignored Cameron’s warning.

Three months later, Barton reported a deficit of $530,900 in the fund equity balance for FY 1997 and a projected deficit of $1,462,000 for FY 1998. Hiring those six regional nongame biologists at a reported cost of $200,000 in FY 1997 mushroomed into a Natural Resources Policy Bureau budget of $3,429,000 in FY 2006 plus more than two million dollars in admitted nongame expenditures in the Wildlife Bureau budget alone.

Should F&G Provide Environmental Services?

During the July 3, 2007 meeting Sen. Cameron said the Committee must ask whether or not the Department should be providing environmental services and whether they should provide non-game. He said each member should ask, “Do I want the Department to have these other responsibilities, which shouldn’t be on the backs of the sportsmen?”

Sen. Schroeder expressed the concern that sportsmen opportunities will be diminished and said we must ask whether F&G should be providing expertise to other agencies for free. “Why are we doing analysis for private sector entities who don’t allow (sportsman) access?”

But Rep. Stevenson responded, “We think of these needs we have and we already have the biologists. I’m uncomfortable at hiring new ones – we need to find a way to extract some money.”

F&G Becomes “Fish, Game and Flowers”

A similar argument was used in 2003 when a majority of Rep. Stevenson’s Resource Committee members supported House Bill 67. The bill removed the authority and duty of Parks and Recreation to manage wild flowers and plants and gave it solely to Fish and Game, along with the responsibility to manage rare and endangered plants.

Parks and “Rec” spokesmen said although it had been their responsibility for several decades and they were receiving federal money to do it, they had not hired botanists and had used the Conservation Data Center housed in IDFG headquarters to track rare plants. They turned over the federal money, which ultimately covered only half of the costs, to IDFG and said this would prevent duplication of effort by the two agencies.

Sportsmen Pay For Biodiversity Agenda

Several House Resource Committee members, who opposed the bill, raised concerns that the transfer would allow sportsmen license fees to be used to manage endangered plants. But IDFG Director Huffaker said the CDC was created 15 years earlier as an aftermath of the Endangered Species Act and claimed that during that time sportsmen money has never been used for anything that would not benefit sportsmen.”

Huffaker’s statement reflects his willingness, and that of several previous IDFG Directors, to mislead the resource owners and their elected officials in order to promote the biodiversity agenda of IAFWA, The Nature Conservancy and the United Nations. Four years earlier, former F&G Director Steve Mealey documented $2.9 million of sportsmen license fees that was spent by IDFG that year for non-game/fish activities with no tangible benefit to sportsmen.

In a public Commission meeting Mealey described Administration Bureau Chief Steve Barton as “a magician who can always come up with money from somewhere when it’s needed.” The problem was that the money Barton “came up with” was always sportsman license fees - including dedicated funds that were misappropriated (with the Director’s approval according to Barton).

How Did We Get in This Mess?

Instead of repeating the IAFWA claim that “changing public attitudes during the past 15 years” have caused a major shift in management priorities, the Committee needs to examine facts to determine when, why and how the funding shortages really began to occur.

During the first 40 years of its existence IDFG used appropriate biological tools to manage wild game, fish and furbearers, and paid the costs with income from sport licenses (user taxes), fur sales and fines. For most of the next 40 years the cost of managing game, fish and furbearers was paid by a combination of license fees and federal excise taxes on guns, ammo and fishing equipment (still user taxes).

Dramatic Change in F&G Priorities

A comparison of actual F&G expenditures in FY 1980 when Jerry Conley was hired to replace retiring F&G Director Joe Greenley, and in FY 1996 three months before Conley resigned, reflects the change in priorities from managing wild game to promoting nongame, biodiversity and wildlife watching.

Actual IDFG Expenditures in FY 1980 and FY 1996

FY 1980 % of Ttl FY 1996 % of Ttl
Administration 904,200 8.7% 7,874,500 17.4%
Enforcement 2,239,900 21.7% 6,832,500 15.1%
Fisheries 3,098,600 30.0% 16,105,900 35.6%*
Wildlife 3,212,600 31.1% 8,095,300 17.9%
Info & Education 397,900 3.8% 2,373,500 5.6%
Engineering 397,600 3.8% 808,600 1.8%
Nat Resource Pol. 84,500 0.1% 1,623,500 3.6%
Set-Asides -0- 0.0% 1,544,400 3.4%
Total 10,335,300 45,258,200
(* The increase in the percent of the total budget spent by the Fisheries Bureau in FY 96 resulted from ~$11.9 million dollars in mitigation money received from Bonneville Power, National Marine Fisheries, Idaho Power, FWS and others, plus $3.4 million in D-J federal excise taxes on fishing equipment sales.)

Wildlife Funding Cut – Adminstration Doubled

In FY 1980, game and fish populations were healthy and increasing but by 1996 many had reached record lows. The single largest source of income to IDFG is from deer and elk hunters yet the percent of total income spent by the Wildlife Bureau had been cut nearly in half while the percent spent by Administration had doubled, hiding the use of license fees to support non-hunting.

The percent of total money spent by Enforcement and Engineering had also been cut dramatically while the percent spent by I&E (Communications) and Natural Resource Policy had skyrocketed. F&G spending for non-hunting/fishing activities was completely out of control and Governor Batt ordered the F&G Commission to make drastic cuts in non-essential spending for FY 1997.

Spending Cuts Targeted Hunters and Fishermen

The austerity program began with the Commission cutting its own travel and meeting expenses but the newly appointed Commissioners deferred to the “old hands” who had supported the nongame/biodiversity/watchable wildlife expenditures, to make the important cuts. They, of course, allowed Jerry Conley and Steve Barton to decide which programs would be cut, which sportsmen charged was “putting the rabbits in charge of the cabbage patch.”

Although Conley and Barton claimed they had made “across-the-board” cuts in all Bureaus, the analysis by Legislative Budget Analyst Jeff Youtz one year later revealed that the cuts only impacted hunters and fishermen. From FY 1996 to FY 1997 the number of resident hatchery fish produced dropped from 27,417,781 to only 19,970,000, including 390,000 fewer “catchable” 10-12” trout raised and stocked in Idaho lakes and reservoirs.

The number of anadromous hatchery fish produced declined from 6,493,599 to only 5,125,698 and there was a 50% reduction in moose sheep and goat census and 100 fewer helicopter hours flown counting deer, elk and antelope. Wild pheasant trapping and transplanting was cut 50% and weed control and restroom maintenance on WMAs was curtailed.

The number of law enforcement personnel was reduced and several officers’ duties were shifted from law enforcement to other activities. Yet the number of teachers trained in “Project WILD” and the number of nongame presentations to schools increased by 33%-46%.

While actual Fisheries and Wildlife Bureau spending decreased by 7% and 10% respectively, Natural Resource Policy Bureau spending increased by 36% in FY 1997. Ignoring the priority established by the Governor and the new Commissioners, Conley and Barton continued to increase biodiversity, nongame and watchable wildlife funding using “leftover” license fees.

What’s in a Name?

If you run a computer thesaurus or spell check program on “biodiversity”, “nongame” and “watchable” wildlife, you probably won’t find some of those words. Yet they have become the bywords of environmental protectionist groups and state and federal wildlife management agencies.

Until environmental extremism replaced game and fish management during the late 1960s and 70s, “wildlife” was defined as “mammals, birds and fishes hunted by man.” In 1976, following IAFWA recommendation, IDFG quietly suggested the Idaho Legislature change the definition of wildlife to the UN’s “any form of animal life, native or exotic, generally living in a state of nature.“

That change in definition in I.C. Sec. 36-202(g) opened the door for F&G biologists to justify protection of any “critter” regardless of its harmful effect on other species that were generally considered beneficial or desirable to humans. For example, it is used to supercede even the ESA by prohibiting the control of predators that prevent recovery of pygmy rabbits.


In 1974 The Nature Conservancy launched the first of its state “Natural Heritage Programs” advocating preservation of “natural diversity” (ecosystems made up only of so-called “native” species). In 1984 a joint effort by The Nature Conservancy, Idaho Parks and Recreation and the IDFG Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program formed Idaho’s Natural Heritage Program.

In 1986 a National Forum on Biological Diversity used the term “biodiversity” to describe TNC’s agenda of restoring a diverse mix of “native” species to ecosystems - rather than manage to maintain healthy populations of existing species that are beneficial to humans. The introduction of Canadian wolves into areas where wolves have been absent or significantly reduced for more than a century is a major component in the plan to restore “biodiversity” in “native” ecosystems.

The following year IDFG followed the IAFWA recommendation and took over full management of the Natural Heritage Program (also referred to as the “Conservation Data Center” or Idaho CDC). The FY 1998 Stockholder’s Report states the following Purpose for the CDC:

“Collect the best biological information on rare or special status animals and plants, plant communities and habitat areas. Manage this information in a series of interrelated databases. Disseminate this information as widely as possible to potential users. Interpret and synthesize this information to support proactive habitat conservation efforts.”

Contrary to Huffaker’s claim to the Legislature (see Sportsmen Pay For Biodiversity Agenda on page 3) the entire FY 98 CDC budget of $11,699 was funded with sportsman license fees. In fact the largest item (“Technical Assistance”) in the Natural Resource Policy budget in FY 98 was funded with $482,915 of license dollars and $396,898 of federal aid.

The Purpose: “Provide fish and wildlife technical assistance to federal and state agencies, local governments, private individuals and entities and others to minimize or eliminate impact to fish and wildlife populations and habitats from a wide variety of projects and proposals.” These free services paid for mostly by sportsmen, result in the concerns expressed by Sen. Schroeder (see Should F&G Provide Environmental Services? on Page 2).

The “Official” Definition of Biodiversity

During the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the definition of “biodiversity” adopted by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was:

"The variability among living organisms from all sources, including, 'inter alia', terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems."

Biodiversity includes every living organism in each designated ecosystem, including several million species, many of which are microscopic, that will never be included in an ESA listing. However scientists estimate there are between 1 million and 100 million larger species that can be seen with the naked eye, with estimates of from only 3-5 to as many as 140,000 disappearing every year.

Virtually every scientist agrees with the Nature Conservancy opinion that it is not possible to restore all of even the relatively few species that are already listed as endangered or threatened. Most concede that 40% of freshwater fish in South America have never even been classified and only a tiny unknown fraction of saltwater species have been identified.

On their respective websites, both TNC’s Chief Biologist and IDFG’s Nongame and Biodiversity staffs admit there are too many nongame species to attempt to manage them individually. They say they “attempt to take a habitat and landscape-based approach to nongame wildlife conservation and management by advocating protection of specific plant communities” such as the shrub-steppe ecosystems of southern Idaho.

Two Questions That Need Answers

The IUCN* “Red List” of 40,168 species and 2,160 subspecies assessed in 2006 claims that 16,118 of the main species (40%) are threatened with extinction. Most of these threats are blamed on human induced habitat loss or degradation. (* International, Union for Conservation also called “World Conservation Union”)

Whether it’s the UN, TNC, IDFG CWCS Team or other involved groups, their biologists agree that since humans appeared on earth their activities have been the major cause of biodiversity loss. Some claim this will cause dramatic irreversible changes during the next 100 years while others point out that the present degree of loss in biodiversity can be sustained for many thousands of years without reaching the 20%+ loss that occurred during the five major mass extinctions of the geological past.

When white explorers crossed large stretches of Nevada in the early 1800s they reported a land nearly barren of game with only a few scattered half-starved Indians. Irrigation development by white settlers turned large tracts of that land into a virtual paradise, rich with lush habitat and assorted game and other wildlife species.

Why should the agency charged with perpetuating and managing Idaho’s wild game and fish for hunting, fishing and trapping be working to restore a “natural” feast or famine condition? Why does IDFG support the agendas of national and international environmental activist groups rather than give its allegiance to Idaho citizens who own the resource and to their elected officials?

The IDFG “Nongame” Program

For many centuries game managers in all parts of the world have recognized that conditions which produce abundant game populations for humans to harvest also support an abundance of other species. But for more than two decades environmental activists who do not support hunting have lobbied Congress to authorize and fund management of species that are not sought by hunters and fishermen.

Rather than refer to these species with the accurate terms “non-hunted” or “non-game” the activists created a new word, “nongame”, to promote those species as having at least equal value to traditional game animals, birds and fishes. But as with many other confusing words or phrases invented by wildlife biologists, a non-game program may have nothing to do with nongame species.

Different Nongame Classifications

Readers with internet access who are interested can read the Idaho vertebrates listed as “nongame” by entering: and then click on “Mammals” or “Amphibians and Reptiles.” Then to view the list of birds click on “Nongame Bird Program”, and then click on “List of Idaho’s Bird Species” in the lower right hand corner.

These three lists include only the 619 or so vertebrate species (having a backbone) that have been recognized as living in or migrating to Idaho - of which 523 are classified as nongame. The 619 include 111 mammals, 39 amphibians or reptiles and the rest birds, but do not include Idaho fish and hundreds of assorted mussels, snails, crustaceans, insects, etc. also found in the CWCS list of “Idaho fish and wildlife species.”

As reported in the April 2004 Outdoorsman, IDFG “management” of nongame species consists of giving most of them protected status, which automatically invokes severe federal penalties for killing, possessing or attempting to trade or sell the species or any portion. Its tacit admission that neither Idaho reptiles nor amphibians need protection is obvious since up to four native amphibians and reptiles of each species may be captured and held in captivity by holders of a valid Idaho hunting license.

On July 23, 2007, KTVB Boise news reporter Carolyn Holly featured a dog that had been bitten repeatedly by a rattlesnake when it jumped between the snake and a small child. The cameraman also showed an adult (the child’s father?) displaying the snakeskin which had been illegally removed and tacked on a flat surface for drying.

Although the F&G rule that became permanent law on April 6, 2005 says the protected status is not intended to prevent protection of personal health and/or safety, who decides when killing a protected species is warranted? The popular theme that people are “intruding” in rattlesnake, wolf, bear or lion habitat implies that humans should either be content to live and work in crowded urban “islands” of human habitat or suffer the consequences from predators that are protected in all of the surrounding rural and wilderness areas.