- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is trying to figure out its next move after a plan to increase hunting and fishing license fees for the first time in 13 years got shot down.

Spokesman Mike Keckler said Tuesday that the agency’s director and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission are working on possible alternatives. It’s not clear if that will be possible during the current Legislative session.

“It’s going to be important for the agency at some point to get more consistent funding to completely fulfill its mandate,” he said.

The chairman of the House Resources and Conservation Committee, Republican Rep. Marc Gibbs of Grace, told the commission Friday that the proposed legislation had problems and wouldn’t advance.

The agency said Gibbs had concerns that a proposal dealing with wildlife damaging crops didn’t fully address the problem. The problems with the fee increase weren’t immediately clear.

Gibbs didn’t respond to phone calls from The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The cost to hunt and fish in Idaho for residents is among the lowest in 11 Western states, with a fishing license costing $25.75 and a hunting license $12.75.

Fish and Game officials this year want to introduce legislation called Price Lock. The agency on its website says most resident licenses, tags and fees would increase between $1 and $6 in 2018 if the Price Lock is approved.

But hunters and anglers would be able to lock in 2017 prices by continuing to buy a license each year.

“We want to make sure that our prices are affordable,” said Keckler. “That’s the key, and we think the proposal we brought forth is reasonable.”

The agency relies on revenue from licenses, tags and permits to cover operational costs and does not receive general state tax dollars. In 2015, Idaho hunters killed nearly 70,000 deer and about 25,000 elk, numbers not matched since the 1990s.

The Legislature in 2012 gave authority to the Fish and Game Commission - which supervises the department - to auction up to 12 “Governor’s Wildlife Partnership” big-game tags, including three each for deer, elk and pronghorn and one each for bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat.

After the commission didn’t take action, Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter declined to reappoint two members who opposed issuing more auction tags. Two new members have since been appointed, but it’s not clear how they view auction tags.

The other proposal Gibbs shelved would have extended the amount of time ranchers could claim damages that have occurred from elk and deer getting into crops or stored food.

Currently, payment is allowed for damages up to 10 days before Fish and Game is notified. The proposed change would have extended that to 20 days.

Recent mild winters have allowed deer and elk populations to grow. This severe winter is forcing herds into lower elevations in search of food, and Fish and Game is gathering information it plans to release Wednesday on its emergency feeding efforts.

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