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The purpose of this column is to formally request reconsideration of your support for the Scotchman Peaks congressional bill. Our opposition is based on 44 years of serving the sportsmen of North Idaho as Idaho Department Fish and Game commissioners. As a group — Pete Thompson, Idaho Department of Fish & Game commissioner from 1972-1984; Dick Hansen, 1984-1996; Nancy Hadley, 1996-2005; Tony McDermott, 2005-2013; and Brad Corkill, 2013 to present — all oppose a wilderness designation for Scotchman Peaks as currently written. D. Hansen passed away in 2015, but voiced his opposition to Pete Thompson and Tony McDermott on numerous occasions prior to his death.

Currently two-thirds of Idaho’s land is federally owned and managed. More than four million acres of Idaho is tied up in over a dozen wilderness areas and we believe enough is enough. Our position is that nothing will change if Scotchman Peak is left as is. The U.S. Forest Service designated the area for wilderness management in the recently approved Panhandle Forest Plan and will continue to manage it as wilderness regardless of the designation.

Idaho Fish and Game recently celebrated its 75th anniversary of the creation of the Fish and Game mission by the people of Idaho. Hunters, anglers, trappers and others who cared for wildlife wrote it and passed it through a citizens’ initiative that was approved by 76 percent of the state’s voters in 1938.

IDFG’s mission: “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 a 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, IC 36-103(a).” Two-plus years ago the citizens of Idaho reaffirmed this mission by approving a state constitutional amendment (75 percent of voters) preserving the public’s right to hunt, fish and trap.

Here in lies the problem: The Wilderness Act, Equal Access for Justice Act, and Endangered Species Act and others have all been hijacked by extreme environmental organizations. Their goal is to limit the state’s ability to adequately manage its wildlife and other resources through the use of endless lawsuits. They file suit over everything listed under these federal acts from butterflies, spotted owls, spotted frogs, lynx, grizzly bears, livestock grazing on public lands, cutting of timber on our national forest, water issues and the list goes on. To add insult to injury, these groups file for and receive legal fees which are paid under the EAJA regardless of whether they win or lose.

As you know in Idaho, Western Watersheds, Friends of the Clearwater and Wilderness Watch sued the USFS in January 2016 after learning of helicopter flights allowing the collaring of 57 elk and four wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness. This collaring operation was done to gather information needed to better understand what was causing dramatic reductions in overall elk numbers.

U.S. District Court Judge Winmill in his decision ordered the destruction of all scientific data from this elk and wolf collaring operation in order to satisfy the plaintiffs. The judge went on to say, “the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Wilderness Act when it authorized Idaho Fish and Game to put collars on elk by making helicopter landings in the Frank Church where engines are prohibited.” This is one example of dozens of lawsuits filed by these same extreme environmental organizations for the purpose of restricting the state’s ability to manage its resources. It’s another case of “the federal government knows what’s best.”

There is a good chance that this same federal judge will rule against the state citing violations of the ESA in its ongoing lynx lawsuit involving federal public lands in northern Idaho. The goal of these same activists groups is to shut down all state wolf management in Idaho wilderness areas using ESA-listed lynx as a vehicle to achieve their goals. If this doesn’t work they will pick another ESA-listed animal and the process will continue.

Another lawsuit was filed in June by the Friends of the Clearwater, Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Wild Earth Guardians and Predator Defense for the purpose of stopping the Federal Wildlife Services Agency from killing wolves in Idaho. On Friday, Feb. 11, 2017, these same litigants filed a motion for summary judgment in federal court seeking to stop the federal WSA from killing wolves in Idaho citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. This 1970 law requires that the federal government must study and publish the environmental consequences of its proposed actions and to consider viable alternatives. If these extreme environmental groups, who do not care one whit about the state management of Idaho’s wildlife, prevail it would make it much more difficult for the state to manage wolf packs in central and northern Idaho.

The state’s minimum wolf population currently exceeds 750 animals and the real number is more than 1,000. Wolf numbers for Idaho at the time of reintroduction were 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs. Idaho’s legislature increased this number to 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs in order to avoid relisting under the ESA.

We also realize that many N. ldahoans involved with Friends of Scotchman Peak Wilderness have contributed years of effort in moving this proposal forward. Consideration should be given to putting the land into an alternative category of special use. This could include designation as a primitive area, national conservation area, national scenic trail or one of the other designations other than wilderness which would allow for limited multiple use management options.

If the area is to be designated wilderness we request that the current footprint of the proposal be reduced to a size that is acceptable to all the parties involved. Whatever option is selected IDFG and its commission must be satisfied with the state’s ability to manage its wildlife without USFS intervention and the lawsuits filed by these same environmental activist organizations.

Pete Thompson, Richard Hansen (deceased), Nancy Hadley, Tony McDermott, and Brad Corkill have all served on the Idaho Department of Fish & Game Commission.