Western Fish and Game (Wildlife) Comissions on the chopping block

High Country News reports on moves to abolish or modify the traditional Fish and Game Commission-

Western wildlife commissions on the chopping block. By Jodi Peterson.  High Country News

This form of wildlife governance has come up for discussion many times on this blog.






  1. Jon Way Avatar

    This should be done nationwide, not just in the west.

  2. Phil Avatar

    I think that this is a trend. I do not know about all states, but I have read and heard that the Fish and Game has lost a lot of credibility on their procedures as the article mentioned from New Mexico. As Jon Way mentioned, it should be done nationwide.

  3. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    The problem with fish an game commissions is the way they are funded. The bulk of their money comes from tax on the sale of guns and fishing equipment. (That includes tax money from the purchase of handguns by non-hunters)
    If non-consumptive users were to pay for more of the management, those activities would get more support from game commissions.
    I testify at Idaho commission meetings and all of the commissioners know me. My concerns are at least heard, if not always acted upon.
    The biggest problem that I encounter at these meetings is the small number of people, like myself, that show up to represent non-consumptive uses. The meetings are heavily attended by outfitters and hunters, but not by wildlife watchers and other non-consumptive users of wildlife.
    As a result, wolves and other predators are demonized by the majority of those in attendance and states like Idaho get managed as publicly owned game farms for the production of targets for hunters.

    1. WM Avatar


      ++The bulk of their money comes from tax on the sale of guns and fishing equipment. (That includes tax money from the purchase of handguns by non-hunters)++

      I think your assertion is VERY wrong, at least in ID and WA.

      I don’t have the time to research all states in the NW, but here is the ID proposed budget for 2011 – $76.5M (appears to be an operating budget). See pdf page 29 of Link here: http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/budget/JFAC/presentations/IDFG.2011-02-01.1.pdf

      Percentages as follows:
      Licenses and permits – 44
      Federal – 27
      Dingell-Johnson# 9
      Pittman-Robertson* 8
      Private/local 8
      Misc. 3

      Larry, you are not even close. State distribution of Pittman/Robertson* (the federal excise tax on guns and amunition that is distributed to the state) is 7 percent. Dingell-Johnson# (excise tax on fishing goods) is 9 percent. That is 16 percent of the budget, if my math is correct.

      I would expect MT, WY, OR, UT and CO to have a similar breakout, but I have not checked.

  4. Elk275 Avatar

    Be careful for what you wish for. Who would control the fish and game departments when the commission was dissolved, the state legislator or the department of livestock. I can guarantee that any Rocky Mountain department of fish and game is not going to be controlled by non bias scientists; it will be control politically.

    There is a large movement in the western states that the owner of the land should own and control the wildlife. The today’s political environment is very conducive to private property rights. If any changes are to be made, that change is not going to be inclusive for all voices.

    Whether one like’s it or not it is state’s sportsman’s groups that are protecting our wildlife heritage against legislation that would harm what we have. Wildlife watchers do not have the political power or numbers.

    1. Phil Avatar

      Elk275: Good point.

    2. jon Avatar

      Last I checked, there are more wildlife watchers than hunters elk.

      1. jon Avatar


        “More Americans have fun watching wildlife than shooting it (71 million wildlife watchers versus 12.5 million hunters), according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

      2. Elk275 Avatar


        That is “Americans” not residents of western states. Non-consumptive users of wildlife do not have organized political power. As Larry Throngren says, the meetings are open to all but only a small number of non consumptive users of wildlife show up. I have been at fish and game meetings where they have an informal vote, ninety hands are for and 10 hands are against. This vote is forworded to the commission and they then consider the comments and vote. I think that they are representative of populous vote and comments received.

      3. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate


        That is an excellent non-biased source. Thanks.

      4. jon Avatar

        Just because some website is biased according to you, doesn’t mean it’s not telling the truth wolf mod. FYI wolf mod, those #s come from the us fish and wildlife service. Are they biased according to you?

  5. bret Avatar

    Well said Elk ,
    This is a political power consolidation by our Governor in one of the most politically liberal states in the west.

    the states wildlife and citizens are better of with commission system, better than one left in the hands politicians and their contributors or wildlife by initiative.
    If this was happening in WY,AK,MT,ID or UT. the tone of the article would probably be different and the reactions certainly would. my $ .02

  6. Phil Avatar

    Elk: But, who populates this country, Americans throughout or just the Americans in the west? That is the entire issue with wolves. Most of the general public want them around and protected, while a group of hunters and ranchers do not. Guess what? The general public are the majority of the customers for the ranchers, not the hunters.

    1. wolf moderate Avatar
      wolf moderate

      We will see Phil. It seems the country is making a hard shift to the right. Only time will tell. Personally I have mixed feelings about the current political climate. It sucks because I’m for abortion, legalization of weed, reducing the military etc…But w/ the GOP in power none of the above will take place.

      1. Phil Avatar

        I stand strong with you being against the GOP. I am not to much into politics, but I understand what is going on, and agree with you in that the country seems like it is turning hard to the right. I do not know about the weed issue, but I do agree with abortion. But, what do you mean about “reducing the military”? You mean in Iraq, or in general?

      2. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        IN general. Slash by 30-50%

  7. Elk275 Avatar


    ++The general public are the majority of the customers for the ranchers, not the hunters.++

    Wrong, Wrong

    The general public are customers of their local grocery store, the grocery store is a customer of a distributor, the distributor is a customer of 4 large packing plants. The ranchers are serfs to these large agricultural giants with monopolistic prices and dictatorial terms. Meat in a western states grocery store can come from the state, a distance state, Canada and maybe Mexico or Argentina.

    But that is not what this thread is about, so that is enough.

  8. WM Avatar

    I think this consolidation will have different outcomes in different states, and pendelum of perceived wildlife values and consumptive or non-consumptive use would swing over night.

    For example, in WA controlled by a D governor, with a predominantly D legislature, it could reduce consumptive uses of wildlife in the short term (without a commission), which some might see as good. Actually Governor Gregoire is a middle of the roader, so it probably will not be dramatic, with a solid director in place.

    Under such a new system (without a commission to dampen political swings) if the balance of power and influence changes in a single election, as it showed very strong signs of doing this past one (had whack job R- Deno Rossi been elected governor) the result could be a swing over night to the far right with an instantaneous dramatic change under a newly appointed wildlife director of the new governor’s choosing that non-consumptive users might find extremely objectionable.

    Overall this might tend to work out in some states, while not doing so well in others. A real bad move in my view, per the example above. Hard to think of things getting worse in ID, MT or WY, but these days one never knows.

    1. Elk275 Avatar


      What you are saying is that with or without a commission, it is still politics. Without a commission the department of fish and wildlife would take orders from it’s political appointed department head who would take orders from the governor. They would be no transparency, no public meetings, no staggered political appointments and accountability only to the political party in power. That is no what I want.

  9. Doryfun Avatar

    In Idaho, Cal Groen (director IDFG) said that IDFG is unlike other states in that it is completely self-funding. Half comes from hunters & fishermen, half from federal sources (hunt & fish excise taxes)

    Non-resident big game license/tags are have dropped due to wolves (bad rep to non-res. hunters). He also said 90% of our wildlife is not hunted or fished, yet by law IDFG is charged with managing such. So he would like to see a conservation license ($10 each) for using a fish and wildlife mgt area or facility Last year lawmakers rejected that proposal.

    Also, the idea of taxing non-hunting equipment (binocs, etc) or having the state’s general fund help pay for non-game programs gained very little support. Funding of non-game programs through buying specialized license plates (which is matched by federal $) is also losing ground. (lost $250,000 of its 1 million non-game budget last 2 yrs).

    See: http://www.idahoreporter.com/2010/fish-game-is-self-funded-but-director-sees-need-for-a-conservation-license

    While the original idea about setting up commissions to help balance out the political football, seems reasonable enough, when (if) that is possible, but in its elimination, the result seems more likely to favor the exploitation/conservation winds of politics.

    It seems that if we could manage more by science, and leave that to the wildlife/fisheries scientist professionals hired on to do just that, this would be a good way to go. But then we get lawsuits with folks like James Peek to point out how IDFG is not following best science to manage with.

    This doesn’t leave one much confidence in any of our funding and methods to govern fish and wildlife manipulations for us human kind. No matter what system gets grounded out, it will always still be about politics. What to do? Pick a camp and work at extending its perimeter?? (hopefully with best science in the vest as we hack away).

    1. Doryfun Avatar

      James Peek (he who teaches the same scientists he questions).

      Does this mean he is a bad teacher? Or did he have bad students? Probably “no” to each question. More likely, it boils down again to politics, for even amidst scientists there is a certain amount of bio-politics. Heck, even nature plays such games in how she(or he, or it) governs. By fire and water, and other earthly patterns does she (he or it) dish out to all the creatures who respond by trying to figure out how to survive.

      I used to pride myself in being on the fence when it came to politics, always wavering back and forth with which ever side had the better ideas (as if I could ever really figure that out, not ever being able to see far enough beyond the fence). Purple best described my color (what you get when you mix blue and red), of yesteryear. But, now I find myself liking blue far more better than red, but still open enough to catch any red bone flung my way, to at least gnaw on it a bit and sample its taste.

      Politics, as at first seem so disgusting, is really just a means to an end. Hopefully in trying to filter out the best between good and bad ideas, it won’t be to an end, but to just another position in the Great Circle of whatever anything actually is.

      “Everything that is, is. Everything that isn’t, is. Therefore, everything just is.”
      (sorry, sometimes my thoughts catch fire and flame out).


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan