By Bill Schneider, 9-19-06
In the contentious aftermath of the escape of up to 160 domestic elk from a 200-acre game farm near Rexburg, Idaho, on the west edge of Yellowstone National Park, hunters in the Gem State have decided this is the time to go for a ban on these “shooter bull operations.”
In a NewWest interview, Mark Bell, President of the Idaho Sportsman’s Caucus, said his coalition would be “relentless” in pursuing an end to what he calls “high-fence shooting” of elk. “It’s not hunting, so I won’t call it hunting.”
“We believe the facts indicate that the escaped animals were not properly tagged, were not monitored, and, once escaped, were not reported as required,” Bell explained. “The implications of such escapes include not only passing diseases to wild populations, but polluting the genetic makeup of elk herds in Idaho, as well as in Montana and Wyoming, and in this instance, the famous Yellowstone herd. Such effects could be disastrous for those herds.”
Bell said his coalition of 26 sportsman’s groups, including national groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Safari Club International is already drafting a bill for the upcoming Idaho legislature. “If we can’t get the legislature to pass it,” Bell said, “we will go for a ballot initiative.”
The coalition’s website lists the member organizations and claims to represent 18,384 Idaho sportsmen and women.
That is the same scenario played out in Montana. After several failed attempts to get a meaningful bill through the Montana legislature, hunters put the issue on the ballot and passed it with the leadership of the Montana Wildlife Federation. The Montana initiative placed an outright ban on shooting of captive wildlife and put tough restrictions on game farms that is expected to result in a gradual phase out of such operations. The 2000 law, which is still being debated in the courts, disallows the expansion of game farms or the transfer of the license from the current owners.
Bell said his group is studying the Montana approach, but he does not know if that’s the route Idaho will take. Idaho hunters could also go for an outright ban as Wyoming did in 1975.
Oregon and Washington also have bans on game farming in place.
“With public sentiment the way it is now with the recent escape of the those elk,” he explained, “we don’t see any need to allow or accelerate high fence shooting. This situation points out the pitfalls with allowing it.”
“I wish we would have been more proactive,” he admitted. “Now, we’re in a crisis mode. All of a sudden the barn is on fire and we don’t know if the fire truck is coming.”
Bell is confident they can do it now, though. He pointed out that his group managed to kill a bill in the last legislature that would have allowed the importation of exotic cervids into Idaho. This would have meant not just caribou, reindeer and red deer coming to Idaho, but all cervids like the pudu, brocket, guemal and muntjac. (Haven’t even heard of them? Well, you can thank the Idaho Sportman’s Caucus for that.)
“Idaho’s wildlife and hunting heritage are too great a resource to all of Idaho to allow them to be placed at such grave risk by the actions of just a few merely for personal gain,” Bell concluded.