By Adena Cook
(Originally appeared in the Idaho Falls, ID, Post Register newspaper)
What is a method of take? The Idaho Department of Fish and Game defines it as a means by which game is harvested, like a gun or bow and arrow. It also can be an enhancement to these weapons giving the hunter an unfair advantage. IDFG defines and bans these innovations.
Several years ago, IDFG expanded their definition of method of take to include off-highway vehicles-not something that's carried, but a means of transportation that takes the hunter on a valid, open trail.
This regulation only applies to hunters on OHVs during hunting season. It does not apply to a casual rider out for enjoyment who carries a sidearm. It does not apply to hunters carrying camping equipment to camp. How does a conservation officer know the difference? That's one of the regulation's many problems.
IDFG defends the regulation claiming it prevents OHVs from running amok off trail, causing damage and unfair access. The agency claims it prevents OHVs from disturbing nonmotorized hunters.
On federal land, federal agencies have the authority to decide which trails and roads are open or closed to OHVs and when. These decisions are preceded by extensive public input.
The resulting travel plans prohibit all off-designated road and trail travel. OHVs traveling off these routes violate federal law. An additional confusing IDFG regulation is superfluous and usurps federal travel plan authority.
Millions of acres are available for nonmotorized hunting across Idaho. Travel plans create more every year. For example, in the recently implemented travel plan for the Salmon-Challis National Forest, OHV trail mileage decreased from 1,119 miles to 864 miles. IDFG has failed to communicate to the hunters where they can go to find these vast acres of solitude.
This controversy culminated in bills introduced by Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, in this year's legislative session. Sen. Corder's bills would have stopped IDFG from making regulations prohibiting OHV travel.
At the hearing I attended, both the Forest Service and BLM testified. The agencies clearly explained travel plan processes and travel plans. They then each stated that they had no problem with IDFG defining OHVs as a method of take. I was astounded. I just apparently heard them cede their travel regulating authority if additional restrictions were imposed.
I wondered if agency policy would be so accommodating if public access were at stake instead.
Would they be so agreeable if, for example, counties sought to promote access by assuming authority over roads and trails on federal land?
The bills failed to pass out of committee but were recommended for consideration by the interim natural resources committee. OHVers are exploring options for resolution outside the legislative process. IDFG needs to realize there are benefits to working with the OHV hunting public.
Cook is a consultant with the BlueRibbon Coalition.