BOISE – In the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Idaho saw fishing license sales up 65% year over year, Fish & Game officials told lawmakers today, as Idahoers practiced the “Idaho social distancing style.”
Paul Kline, Assistant Director of Policies and Programs, Idaho Fish & Game: “Idahoers have found much-needed respite in Idaho’s nature, including hunting and fishing.”
For 2020 as a whole, he said, “Over 450,000 Idahoans have obtained an annual fishing or hunting license, an 11% increase from 2019. And I’m sure tens of thousands of younger children who don’t need a license would fish these too Family outings. “
The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee held its budget hearing in the Fish and Game Department on Monday. The department does not receive any state general tax revenue. Instead, it is funded at 52% through licenses for hunting and fishing. and federal grants for the rest.
Fish & Game director Ed Schriever did not attend Monday’s budget hearing because he was sick. “He’s under the weather and made the difficult but right decision to stay home,” Kline told JFAC.
When the pandemic hit Idaho, Kline said, “Idaho Fish & Game has worked diligently to keep facilities and access points open to ensure people have had the opportunity to recreate themselves.” He said he had “worked to fight against the initial response to closed facilities and access to recreational facilities – knowing that these measures simply lead to more crowds in fewer places, unsafe conditions and resource degradation.”
“Fishing and hunting are generally great for social distancing,” said Kline. “However… it’s a balancing act, and the increased use and participation of recreational activities presented challenges in terms of overcrowding and congestion. These concerns are greater than responding to short-term housing orders, and are related to Idaho’s population growth and the general popularity of hunting and fishing in our large state. “
The way the State Fish and Game Commission has dealt with it is to restrict non-residents, especially in general hunting for deer and elk. “The actions taken by the Commission to limit foreign participation to 10 or 15% of the total number of hunters will reduce non-residents’ participation in some of our general moose hunts by up to 50%,” said Kline. “It will make a significant difference in the number of hunters and ease the crowd.”
Licensed equipment suppliers in Idaho were still assigned a portion of the non-resident tags that corresponded to their historical use in each elk zone.
Last year lawmakers approved a substantial increase in hunting and fishing fees for non-residents. The switch to a new license provider was also financed. “The culmination of this effort was December 1, when over 20,000 non-residents logged into our new system to purchase a license and label for the 2021 deer and elk hunting season,” said Kline. “For the first time in our history, the department published over 13,000 items and sold nearly $ 10 million worth of license approvals and tags in one day. The response from non-residents indicated that Idaho remains a destination for hunters because of the variety and quality of opportunities our resources offer. “
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The fee increase for non-residents should be revenue-neutral, Kline said, selling fewer permits and tags at higher prices. “So far, sales have come close to that original forecast,” he said.
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, praised the moves. “We get a lot of complaints about things that happen in Fish & Game. I think it’s a blood pressure issue for a lot of people, ”she said. “And this year I loved the complaints I got because I had a lot of complaints from friends of mine who live out of state and were frustrated because they couldn’t go online for a day and they were very frustrated with the limited number of tags. I told them if they want to hunt Idaho game they’d better move to Idaho. “
Fish & Game executives also noticed significant changes in the agency’s “presence” in Treasure Valley. A new regional office opened in Nampa consolidated a range of services previously relocated with a “new facility more centrally located to better serve the people of Treasure Valley,” Kline said . As a result, the agency’s Garden City location is no longer needed and is currently for sale in the market. Plans call for the proceeds to be used to pay off remaining leases for five regional offices, resulting in ongoing budget savings of $ 500,000 per year in the future.
Fish & Game is also currently building a new main building in Boise. By the time it opens in December, Fish & Game will have dropped from five locations in Treasure Valley to two, Kline said. “For the first time in over 20 years, we will bring all employees at our headquarters under one roof and demonstrate our commitment to financial responsibility to the athletes.”
The governor’s proposed Fish & Game budget for next year reflects a 3.7% increase in overall funding excluding general funding. The increase includes $ 6 million lease repayments and mitigation work related to the Albeni Falls Dam in northern Idaho, funded through a negotiated agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration and the state of Idaho. Due to delays related to COVID-19, $ 2 million due to be spent this year was invested in next year’s work, increasing next year’s amount.
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise Chief Executive and State Capital Reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.