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Idaho Fish and Game

Is Fish and Game Listening?

As Fish and Game conducts public meetings and surveys around the state to obtain comment before big game hunting rules are set next month, some will wonder if the department is listening. A common complaint from people who suggest one certain course of action and then see the department take some other direction is that Fish and Game is not listening to them. Obviously, Fish and Game must finally choose just one path among the many proposed, but citizens whose suggestions are not followed often feel disappointed. A January legislative audit report on the department's public involvement process concluded that the department does a good job of gathering and considering public comment but could improve its process. An internal department team reached the same conclusion last fall and developed a revised public involvement plan. The plan was approved unanimously when the Commission met in Boise in January. This plan builds on the basic format used for many years to inform and receive comment from the public on impending plans, rules and proclamations. A significant addition was made with a new policy that commits the department to providing feedback to everyone who provides comment. Under the new policy, the department will acknowledge comments, summarize the department's recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission, and explain the rationale of the commission's decisions. The policy specifies six steps informing the public and taking comment, sets timeframes for each step and spells out strategies for obtaining unbiased random samples of opinions along with traditional public meetings. A "human dimensions/survey team" will be developed within the department to assist in scoping, public involvement, and surveys. The team will help evaluate public satisfaction with various public comment and participation methods. The policy notes that citizens' opinions of decisions are significantly enhanced when the decision making process is better understood. Efforts will be focussed to improve the public's understanding of Fish and Game decision making. Surveying of public opinion has already shown that changing regulations too often is a major cause of confusion. Under the new policy, "no change" will be the preferred alternative for annual or biennial regulations unless change is dictated by biological need. Major shifts in how opportunity is managed or allocated would be addressed every five years when management plans are reviewed by the department, public and Commission.