Press Release

Ask the Conservation Officer (CO)

By Gary Hompland, Regional Conservation Officer

Question: What's this I hear the Fish and Game Department is 110 years old? I thought the Department began in 1938.

Answer: May 5, 2009, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game celebrates 110 years of fish and wildlife conservation in Idaho.

This statement may confuse some people because 1938 has become a common reference point for the public and most current employees relative to Fish and Game's beginnings.

On May 5, 1899, Gov. Frank Steunenberg appointed Charles H. Arbuckle as Idaho's first state game warden, who was assigned the task of creating a statewide department to enforce the 1864 game laws. From 1899 to 1938, 15 men held the title of state game warden that is synonymous with the Fish and Game director today.

In 1939, with the passage of the 1938 Fish and Game Commission Act by initiative petition, the governor would appoint a Fish and Game Commission and the commission would select a person for the position of director. Thirteen directors have been appointed to date.

The state game wardens came from various walks of life, employed in many different professions, some holding prominent positions in state and federal government either before or after serving as state game warden.

The first state game warden was a representative from Owyhee County at the time of his appointment and would later become a member of the Boise police force and a U.S. marshal and there was yet another who would also become a U.S. marshal. There were also sheriffs, engineers, lawyers, newspaper owners and editors, postmasters, druggists, farmers, and miners. These men were very different but each took their position as state game warden seriously. They brought to Fish and Game new thoughts and ideas and a desire to protect and propagate Idaho's fish and wildlife resources.

Many programs and ideas initiated or recommended by those appointed as the state game warden might be surprising. The following are some notes about important conservation measures in Idaho and when they were adopted.

1899-1900: Laws to restrict the spearing and seining fish; a bag limit on fish, big game, game birds and water fowl; that song birds should be protected; the need for Fish and Game to be self sustaining and a fee to hunt and fish in Idaho would make that possible; a dedicated staff was needed to enforce the game laws; and a fish hatchery was much needed to replenish Idaho's vanishing fisheries.

1905-1910: The introduction of the revolving fish screen to prevent fish from entering irrigation ditches and canals; the state's first fish hatchery was built at Hay Spur and the profession of fish culture is introduced in Idaho; game birds were transferred and planted between different areas of the state with much success; Idaho's first pheasant farm is established in the Boise area; a program for the extermination of predatory animals - specifically wolves, coyotes, wild cats and cougars - is put in place; the first state game wardens convention was held in eastern Idaho; Chinese pheasants were introduced into Idaho.

1911-1912: It was recommended fishing in the Redfish Lakes be closed because the redfish were becoming scarce and there was concern they will be totally depleted.

1912-1913: A "coupon" system was recommended for elk and deer hunters - one coupon will be affixed to the animal and the other sent to Fish and Game to estimate the number of animals killed during the season and to help ensure hunters are taking only the allowed number of animals.

1913-1914: The state game warden hires Idaho's first woman game warden - Mrs. Mabel Avery; Edison Studio Films of New York makes the first known educational movie of Idaho big game near Ashton titled, "Big Game and their Legal Rights."

1914: It was recommended that disguising the sex and species of birds and animals be prohibited and that there is a need for uniform laws governing Bear Lake between Idaho and Utah; Fish and Game conducted the first economic survey of fishing and hunting in Idaho, with statewide impacts of more than $3 million; a food value was placed on fish and game, with deer being 20 cents per pound, elk at $80 each and mountain sheep at $10 each; that Fish and Game be controlled by a commission, consisting of the governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and one citizen not holding office, to appoint a state game warden, who would then be the executive head of the commission with a term of six years.

1915-1916: 50 elk, 15 bulls and 35 cows, are transplanted from Montana into Idaho.

1919-1922: It was recommended that women and children under 15 could fish free but women and children over 15 needed a hunting license.

1935-36: Appropriations for the scientific study and treatment of diseases in fish and game were recommended.

1937: The first official statewide survey of Idaho's fish and game species. The first "acting director" for Fish and Game would be the state's last state game warden - William R. McIntyre. Since then, 12 men have served as director, and, like the state game wardens before them, they have initiated numerous programs and carried out the task of managing Fish and Game. "To the first fish and game warden of the state, sportsmen are indebted. He placed the first check on the slaughter of birds and game animals and did the pioneer work in laying the foundation on which the department could grow to its present proportions." (State Game Warden Leroy C. Jones, January 1, 1917)

This summary of Fish and Game's history was supplied by Mick Hoover, department historian and curator and assistant hatchery manager at the Mackay Fish Hatchery.

If you have any further questions you may call the Magic Valley Regional Office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at (208)324-4350 or contact us at the Fish and Game web site at