On a 20-15 vote, the Senate has rejected a contentious bill that would have barred the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) from writing rules that restrict the use of motorized vehicles on federal lands. House Bill 542 passed the House 48-21 and barely made it out of the Senate Resources Committee.

Floor sponsor Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said IDFG has the ability under Idaho law to manage wildlife and set hunting requirements, but that the Legislature has the ability and responsibility to manage the department. He said House Bill 542 is specific enough to do so.

The department had said if the bill were approved, it would result in shorter hunting seasons or controlled hunts.
But some lawmakers said the department’s restrictions on ATV use, in particular, have resulted in some Idaho hunters giving up the sport.

“My concern is who we’re restricting from hunting in those areas,” Sen. John Tippets, R-Montpelier, said. “We’re restricting people who aren’t healthy enough” to hike into the backcountry.

And legislators argued that the department’s regulations regarding ATV use are difficult to understand, subjective and are not applied consistently.

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the department’s regulations cause some Idahoans to lie about what they’re doing in order to appear in compliance with the department’s rules.

Other lawmakers said the Legislature’s decision to restrict ATV use in hunting would mean impacts on hunting and wildlife.

“This will have severe biological ramifications,” warned Sen. Jeff Siddoway, a Republican from Terreton.

Of the bill, Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said, “It’s like using a sledgehammer on a little tiny nail. You don’t have to go this far to solve the problems.”

Sen. John Goedde, a Republican from Coeur d’Alene, said some hunters may prefer to hunt in a place that is free of motorized vehicles, where the hunter basically knows who is hunting nearby and who is not. Hiking for hours to get to a prime hunting area is something he’s willing to do, he said.

“I don’t want some hotshot on an ATV coming in and shooting brush shot,” Goedde said.

Republican Majority Leader Sen. Bart Davis of Idaho Falls said lawmakers don’t need to pass new laws to tell IDFG that its regulations should be changed: “I’m an old dirt bike rider. I’m an access guy. I want access to trails. I’ve argued against license plates on my dirt bike. But if an administrative rule is wrong, reject the rule.”

Corder said the department has used a temporary rule, renewed, over the course of 10 years.

“I wish we could have rejected the rule,” Corder responded. “Fish and Game should have come back with a rule that specifically followed their statute.”

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