It was over a year ago that Dr. Rex Rammell had elk flee the confines of one of his elk enclosures. Most of us know the story of how then governor Jim Risch ordered Idaho Department of Fish and Game staff and a few licensed hunters to go find Rammell’s elk and shoot them all, citing fear of the spread of disease and cross breeding wild elk with impure domestic elk.

We know that none of the elk were diseased and none of them tested impure for genetics. Many of us couldn’t understand why Jim Risch felt so inclined to slaughter Rammell’s elk.

Associated Press

Even back in March, the Associated Press was releasing information in their press releases that was not true. I don’t know where they were getting their information but whoever was releasing it wasn’t doing their homework. In a press release back then, the AP stated that it was state law that forced Gov. Risch to kill Rammell’s elk.

State law calls for domestic elk to be slaughtered if they’ve been on the lam for more than six days to prevent the potential for spreading disease and polluting the genetic purity of the wild elk herds that roam the region.

On Tuesday of this week, the AP once again released a story in the Olympian, as well as other outlets, about more charges brought against Dr. Rammell over his elk escapes, one year later. Here’s what the AP reported again.

Then-Gov. Jim Risch issued an executive order calling for the animals to be killed. Risch responded under a state law that calls for the slaughter of domestic elk that are on the loose for more than six days.

At least 5 months later and the AP is still telling information that isn’t true. When they do this, newspapers all across the country who buy into the AP subscription will publish it in their papers. Such is the case of the Olympian. I’m sure this same little paragraph appears in just about every Idaho newspaper that subscribes to the Associated Press. Idaho residents read these accounts and accept them as fact. Such is not the case.

As in March, I will once again clarify this bit of misinformation by publishing the Rules Governing Domestic Elk(pdf file) as was claimed by Gov. Risch as justification for his order to kill Rammell’s elk. (emboldening is mine)

It shall be the duty of each owner or operator of a domestic cervidae ranch to take all reasonable actions to prevent the escape of domestic cervidae from a domestic cervidae ranch. (4-6-05)

01. Notification of Escape. When any domestic cervidae escape from a domestic cervidae ranch, the owner or operator of the domestic cervidae ranch shall notify the Administrator by phone, facsimile, or other means approved by the administrator within twenty-four (24) hours of the discovery of the escape. (4-6-05)

02. Duty to Retrieve Escaped Cervidae. It shall be the duty of each owner or operator of a domestic cervidae ranch to retrieve or otherwise bring under control all domestic cervidae that escape from a domestic cervidae ranch. (4-2-03)

03. Fish and Game. The Administrator shall notify the Idaho Department of Fish and Game of each escape. (4-2-03)

04. Sheriff and State Brand Inspector. When domestic cervidae escape from a domestic cervidae ranch and the owner or operator is unable to retrieve the animals within twenty-four (24) hours, the Administrator may notify the county sheriff or the state brand inspector of the escape pursuant to Title 25, Chapter 23, Idaho Code.(4-2-03)

05. Capture. In the event that the owner or operator of a domestic cervidae ranch is unable to retrieve escaped domestic cervidae in a timely manner, as determined by the Administrator, the Administrator may effectuate the capture of the escaped domestic cervidae to ensure the health of Idaho’s livestock and wild cervidae populations.(4-2-03)

06. Failure to Notify. Failure of any owner or operator of a domestic cervidae ranch to notify the Administrator within twenty-four (24) hours of the discovery of an escape of domestic cervidae is a violation of this chapter. (4-6-05)

07. Taking of Escaped Domestic Cervidae. A licensed hunter may legally take domestic cervidae which have escaped from a domestic cervidae ranch only under the following conditions: (4-6-05)

a. The domestic cervidae has escaped and has not been in the control of the owner or operator of the domestic cervidae ranch for more than seven (7) days; and (4-6-05)

b. The hunter is licensed and in compliance with all the provisions of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game rules and code.

When you read the ruling, which by the way was created by the Idaho Elk Breeders Association, it was created in order to not hold any licensed hunter liable for accidentally shooting someone’s escaped elk. The ruling says that a licensed hunter may legally take an elk that has escaped and been gone for more than 7 days. It says nothing about the state must kill any elk that escaped after 6 days. A licensed hunter can only be legally hunting during the hunting season. The reason for the ruling by the Idaho Elk Breeders Association was a good faith gesture to the public so an elk hunter wouldn’t have to worry if a rancher’s elk had gotten out and walked into the sites of a licensed hunter. Part b clearly spells out about a licensed hunter.

Such misinformation contaminates the minds of readers. Newspaper readers rely on their favorite publications to supply them with what they assume to be facts. When something of this nature is printed repeatedly throughout Idaho newspapers and beyond, obviously people are led to believe that Gov. Risch was just doing his job and obeying the laws of the land. We can clearly see this is not the case.

The state of Idaho had no legal basis for killing Rex Rammell’s elk and this is why he is suing Risch and the state of Idaho for his losses. It is my understanding that the basis of the state’s defense in this lawsuit is claims that the above statute provides the governor with the authority to slaughter anyone’s elk that has escaped for a period to exceed 7 days. If that is the case, I’m afraid the state has a very weak defense, which leads me to more questions.

Why, after nearly one year, has the Idaho Department of Agriculture, which is an entity of the state government, decided to bring more charges against Dr. Rammell? In an email correspondence I had with Dr. Rammell, he told me that one of the new charges brought against him is seeking $5,000 in damages because the Department of Agriculture claims Dr. Rammell failed to notify them when he moved from outside the town of Rexburg into the town of Rexburg.

The timing and nature of some of the charges leads me to believe the state is desperate and hoping to scare Rammell into dropping his suit against them or perhaps seeking a settlement before the possible public humility takes place. Is it simply coincidental that these charges appear shortly after Dr. Rammell announced his intentions to seek the republican nomination for a U.S. Senatorial seat that might be vacated by a retiring Larry Craig? Is it also merely coincidental that now Lt. Gov. Jim Risch would like that same seat? Could this prove to be an embarrassment for Mr. Risch and damage his chances of getting elected?

Dr. Rammell was quoted in several newspapers as saying that the charges are in response to his lawsuit and I would have to agree. With a state’s defense that’s shaky at best and reports that Lt. Gov. Jim Risch’s popularity with voters might be on the wane, the gloves will come off and the strong arm tactics will become common place. It should make for an interesting next few months.

Tom Remington