In my experience, hunters tend to be very traditional and often view changes in regulations with a degree of skepticism and a narrow focus on their preferences and activities, and not necessarily those of other hunters or the resource. Sometimes hunters are right when they are skeptical, sometimes they overreact.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been describing the recent changes to the Idaho sage hunt regulations and the science behind them. I suspect that most hunters’ support for these new regulations will be influenced by issues that are only indirectly related to the hunting of sage chickens. Let’s take a look at some of these problems.
Most hunters are at least somewhat aware that Idaho Code 36-103a provides legal guidance for hunting and fishing in Idaho, which states: “All wildlife … within the state of Idaho is hereby declared Idaho state property.” It should be preserved, protected, preserved and managed. It may only be captured or taken … in a way that sustains, protects and perpetuates these wild animals … ”The Code emphasizes preservation, protection and perpetuation. Many may first judge hunting regulations according to whether they correspond to the intent of this law.
Given the magnitude of the changes in the regulations governing sage hunting, there was surprisingly little publicity or participation, particularly as regards how the new regulations would be more effective at conserving and managing populations compared to previous regulations. The ministry simply released a press release on New Sage Grouse Day and made two more press releases available after the new regulations were approved. The only public contribution to the process was made at the IDFG public meeting. This lack of openness is likely to alarm some hunters.
The revised regulations significantly increase the cost of hunting sage. My calculations show that the cost of a father taking his two cubs out hunting sage has increased by over 370%. Last year every hunter bought a Sage / Sharptail Chicken permit for $ 4.75; The total cost for the father and two sons was $ 14.25. The same cost is $ 68.25 and you would still need to get a sharptail permit if you wanted to hunt this species.
The new regulations have a significant impact on falconers. If a falconer also likes to hunt sage grouse with a shotgun, the new rule means that the hunter will have to choose between a weapon or a falcon due to the restriction on markings. Although falconers have a 7 month season, they can only take one sage grouse in most zones, so the length of the season is meaningless to those who wish to pursue sage grouse.
The agencies have made some progress in educating hunters and others about the effects of habitat loss on sage hens. In his 1981 monograph on the sage, former IDFG biologist Bob Autenrieth noted that the idea that hunting is the primary limit on the numbers of sage is widespread among hunters. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of these regulatory changes is that focusing on hunting detracts from meaningful conservation issues and gives the impression of progress when things are actually getting worse. The IDFG’s renewed focus on hunting could undo habitat conservation efforts and appears to contradict Idaho law that requires the conservation, protection and conservation of wildlife.
I suspect most hunters would agree that having a flexible harvesting system that allows a fish and wildlife agency to respond to unexpected changes is a good idea. Hunters and the general public are most likely to endorse hunting regulations that they believe are effective in preserving the resource while providing adequate hunting opportunities. With the introduction of the new rules and, in particular, the minimal amount of public participation required by the agency, the new rules for sage grouse may alienate people who would normally advocate the conservation of sage grouse. It will take time to tell whether hunters and the public are satisfied with the revised regulations.
Jack Connelly has lived in Bingham County for over 40 years. He is an avid nature lover and has hiked, camped, hunted, and fished in much of the United States as well as parts of Europe and Asia. Connelly worked as a biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for over 30 years. He’s now enjoying his retirement with his wife, Cheryl, who raises chickens and bird dogs at their Blackfoot home.