Idaho elk breeders are facing an onslaught of opposition from a group professing to be comprised of a mish-mash of fish and game personnel, members of the Idaho Sportsman Caucus, the Humane Society of the United States and an odd assortment of other groups and individuals, including several politicians wearing many hats in this debate.
The controversy stems from a debate that got its fuel when an unknown number of domestic elk escaped from a ranch in eastern Idaho not too many miles from Yellowstone National Park. What was presented to the public as a threat to the future of all wild elk in Yellowstone, set off a chain of events that has left many with angry and hard feelings. Gov. Risch immediately ordered the killing of all domestic elk. Helicopters, planes, sharpshooters and hunters were employed to get the job done. A firestorm has since prevailed and is approaching a head as the 2007 Legislature takes office this month and politicians, supported by this same mish-mash coalition are promising sweeping reform that will ban elk farming by individuals in Idaho, including any elk hunting ranches, not so affectionately referred to as “shooter-bull” operations.
Many in the media are saying that this attack on elk farming began as a result of Rex Rammell’s escaped elk. I have come to the conclusion that this was not the beginning, only a tank full of high octane fuel that set into motion a series of events that was just waiting for a place to happen. This resulting quagmire began long before elk found freedom on the Chief Joseph ranch.
As I followed and studied the story, learning a lot more about elk than I ever thought I would, I kept saying to myself that things just didn’t add up right. I even talked with some other people expressing my confusion and at times stating that there has to be more to this story than what I am getting.
With the help of Kristy at the Black Canyon Elk Ranch who has kept me supplied with all the latest information, news and updates, gradually some of the cloudy, murky waters began to settle down and things began to make a bit more sense. Being that my resources are limited, my frustration grew because I didn’t have the resources or the time to pull this all together until I received an email from her containing an article in The Outdoorsman magazine, called “The Domestic Elk Controversy” by George Dovel.
The story begins by talking about “canned hunts” but nicely works its way into a history lesson on Idaho hunting and the transformation of wildlife management influenced by the pressures put on it by several different interest groups. As a big revenue source to fish and game departments, including Idaho, it was discovered that because of the demand for trophy elk hunting and the willingness of those seeking a trophy hunt to pay big bucks (dollars), officials could essentially provide trophy hunting opportunities in some of the wildlife management areas and sell or auction off permits to hunt elk. This became a lucrative business for fish and game.
All of this, for me anyway, led to the most important part of the history lesson I was looking for. I wanted to know what happened that would cause the Idaho Fish and Game to react so strongly toward the elk farming industry. I may have found the answer.
Following severe 1992-93 winter losses, big game managers in several western states began spending thousands of dollars on habitat improvement and selective predator control in a handful of units where trophy hunting permits are sold to the highest bidder. It didnâ€™t take long for some of the domestic elk breeders to copy the state game management agencies by efficiently raising trophy bulls and selling them to elk shooters.
In the states where these elk shooting preserves are approved by the F&G agency, wildlife managers do not object since they retain control and receive revenue from the endeavor. But in Idaho, F&Gâ€™s repeated failure to take precautions to prevent the spread of disease in big game animals caused the Idaho Legislature to impose strict restrictions on the importation, handling and shipment of deer, elk, antelope, moose, bighorn sheep and bison.
In the mid-1990s it mandated those restrictions be enforced by the Idaho Department of Agricultureâ€™s Division of Animal Industries and transferred the licensing and supervision of domestic cervidae farms or ranches from IDFG to the Ag agency. Under current Idaho law â€œdomestic cervidaeâ€ include only fallow deer and elk – and reindeer south of the Salmon River
In other words, the money making business the IDFG was yanked out from under them and placed in the control of the Agriculture Department. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that according to Dovel’s history lesson, the reason for the switch was because the IDFG couldn’t take the necessary precautions in dealing with the spread of disease.
From the time control of elk farming, which is essentially what IDFG was doing, was taken away from them, efforts have been underway to destroy the elk industry and put full control of all elk hunting back in the hands of IDFG. These efforts have put together some very odd coalitions of hunting organizations and anti-hunting groups.
According to two former F&G Commissioners, IDFG resented the loss of revenue and control and called on its traditional support groups to publicly denounce elk farming. But the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) and Safari Club International â€“ â€œIdahoâ€ Chapter (SCI-ID) were not the only groups to attack the elk breeders.
The largest anti-hunting organization in the U.S., the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) increased its attacks on game farms and canned hunts.
Last year a bill was introduced into the Idaho Legislature by Sen. David Langhorst to stop the importation of domestic elk.
In the 2006 session of the Idaho Legislature Sen. David Langhorst introduced Senate Bill 1279 which would have made importation of domestic cervidae into Idaho a misdemeanor offense, and would have required that any animal imported would be seized by IDFG or other law enforcement officers. HSUS endorsed Langhorstâ€™s bill and wrote, â€œIn addition to helping stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, this bill will help cut importation of deer and elk for canned hunts.â€
Also in 2006, Langhorst was instrumental in killing a Constitutional amendment to protect hunting, fishing, etc.
Also in the 2006 session, HSUS opposed SJR 105, the right to hunt amendment, which provided that â€œall wildlife within the state shall be preserved, protected, perpetuated and managed to provide continued supplies for the citizens of Idaho to harvest by hunting, fishing and trapping for the continued benefit of the people.â€ Instead of debating the proposed Constitutional amendment in the Senate Resource Committee where it passed unanimously in their absence, Sen. Langhorst helped Sen. Little destroy its chance of passing by the required two-thirds majority in the full Senate by offering an ineffective substitute immediately before it was voted on.
So who is David Langhorst and what are his connections.
Langhorst served as an IWF Board member from 1992-2001, as Affiliate Representative of the National Wildlife Federation in endangered species discussions in mid-1995, and was the salaried director of the Ketchum-based Wolf Education and Research Center. With its reported 70,000 members, the Center was described as the largest wolf advocacy group in the world.
Ed Bangs and David Mech served on its Board of Directors and its agenda included raising money for logistical support of wolf recovery in Idaho and promoting the â€œAdopt-a-Wolfâ€ program in Idaho schools. As a panelist in the IDFG/IOGA 1999 Wolf Symposium in Boise, Langhorst claimed that Idaho poachers kill more than ten times as much game as wolves do!
After his election to the Idaho Senate in 2004, Sen. Langhorst attended the founding meeting of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses in Texas where he was elected to its Executive Council. At that meeting more than a quarter million dollars was pledged to help form sportsmenâ€™s caucus advisory councils in every state.
ISCAC Parrots F&G Agenda
Sen. Langhorst and Jerry Bullock, Vice-President of SCI-ID, were largely responsible for the formation of the Idaho Sportsmenâ€™s Caucus Advisory Council (ISCAC) whose present membership reportedly consists of 29 sportsmen (or other) interest groups. Last minute changes to the proposed bylaws by Bullock and Langhorst in 2005 assured that a primary function of ISCAC is to support IDFG agendas and requests for fee increases.
A majority of its directors have parroted the IDFG position on news events and legislation ever since then.
Dovel’s story continues to become a fact-filled chronology and clarification of facts about the elk industry to debunk the mantra of the media repeated to them by state officials. It is unfortunate that more writers don’t search deeper for the truth and just rely on what the state puts out with their information machines. This is probably the biggest reason that this story in the Outdoorsman, including the fact sheets, history and events is being sent to the Idaho legislature. Smart move.
Facts speak much louder than rhetoric but all too often facts are swept under the rug. The elk farming business in Idaho is a well run operation and one that poses little if any threat to the citizens of that state or to the wild elk that roam the land. Members of the Idaho Elk Breeders Association have stated that they are open to finding ways to better protect all elk, after all, it’s in their best interest.
Money and greed drive too many issues in our country and this is an example. Spread the blame where blame should be spread. The pressures put on all state fish and game agencies to manage wildlife with limited budgets force them to look for ways to fund their projects. When politics and personal agendas enter the mix, trouble will soon follow.
It is difficult to believe much of anything the IDFG is saying about the domestic elk issue because of their own double standards and hypocrisies. Its failure to address the spread of disease is one thing but to then turn around and demand the elk industry be shut down because it can’t control the spread of disease is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Idaho is not the only state that practices double standards. To some degree, every state in the Union practices game farming. After all, that’s what wildlife management is. States like Maine play games with its moose hunts because it needs the money to survive. We often wonder if big game animals are being managed for revenue or for the fact they are animals. Wyoming continues its elk feeding programs as do other states, in some cases erecting fences to corral the elk and keep them under control. Officials admit that these conditions are ripe for the spread of disease, yet their methods of disease control and management are no where near that of what Idaho elk farmers have to endure to protect their industry.
The Idaho domestic elk quagmire exists not because of elk farmers, not because of Idaho citizens, not because of hunters but because of a few that control the puppet strings that want the money making elk business back in their hands. In that mix you put people who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be defenders of hunters when in actuality they oppose hunting and you have the recipe for a serious political mess.
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