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What's Your Opinion? What's It Worth

If you kept up with the presidential campaign and election, you may have noticed there were no clear-cut, overwhelming mandates from the public, the candidates were at odds on many issues, and the electorate was at odds on just about any selected topic. This is similar to what the Idaho Department of Fish and Game deals with when it comes to setting fish and game seasons. Some think the decisions that go into regulation setting are arbitrary and impulsive. On the contrary, the process is complex, time-consuming, laborious, and, at times, adversarial. Nevertheless, whereas every vote does actually count in an election, every opinion on various aspects of fish and game management also matters. In the past, biologists in the Magic Valley Region have gone to great lengths to gauge public opinion on issues that affect our fish and wildlife resources, the regulations, and the many social aspects of management programs and policies. In 1999, we held eleven open house meetings in six locations (Fairfield, Gooding, Jerome, Burley, Hailey, and Twin Falls), at various times of the year on topics such as big game and fishing regulations, wildlife management area objectives, a fee increase and waterfowl seasons. This past year we conducted nine open houses around the region dealing with big game, upland bird and furbearer regulations, turkey outfitting, trophy species and the Department's predator policy. Fisheries personnel conducted three open houses in December for public review of the 2001 - 2005 Fish Management Plan. These functions were advertised in news releases, in display advertisements, and on radio and television. We make many attempts to "get the word out" so all those who have an interest can be there. Still, many people say they never hear of these opportunities to attend and voice their opinions. Attendance at these varied depending upon the issues, the location, the weather, and the degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with past seasons. Attendance at meetings for a couple of years after the disastrous winter of 1992-93 was greater than it has been in recent years. Regional Wildlife Manager Randy Smith has been very proactive in trying to determine what is happening regarding game harvest, and how hunters in the field feel about certain issues. Periodically since the late 1980's, both successful and unsuccessful hunters have been surveyed at sage grouse and big game check stations. Hunter opinion surveys from big game check stations in the fall of 1987 showed that 90% of hunters were satisfied with mule deer hunting in the Magic Valley Region; in 2000 that figure was 81%. Opinion surveys were conducted on opening weekend at all six big game check stations last fall, sampling 213 hunters, or about 10% of all those through the stations. In 1998 the sample from eight check stations was 435 hunters. These surveys dealt primarily with mule deer hunting satisfaction, road closures, and motorized vehicle use. We also interviewed 305 sage grouse hunters this year at ten check stations on the opening weekend. At check stations last fall, we asked hunters what they felt were some of the limiting factors on mule deer and sage grouse populations--- or, what might be causing declines in numbers? The survey results showed that hunters are pretty aware of what is actually happening in the real wildlife world. They knew that habitat changes and weather have the greatest impacts on wildlife numbers. Access was the most important issue identified by deer hunters. As such, the Department will continue to manage motorized access in certain areas and will step up efforts to preserve or increase access to hunting areas. In both 1998 and 2000 we asked hunters how they felt about temporary road closures. How would hunters accept road closures implemented for the purpose of increasing the number of mature bucks and bulls, or providing areas to hunt where they would not encounter motorized vehicles? Both surveys revealed the same information. Fifty percent of all hunters surveyed favored road closures for the reasons mentioned. Those who did not necessarily favor but would accept closures was roughly 25%. Therefore, about three-fourths of all hunters surveyed would accept temporary road closures if done for the above reasons. We extend a "Thank you" to the hunters who took the time at our check stations to fill out our questionnaires. To those who attended our open houses to voice your concerns, we appreciate your input also. Your opinion actually does matter. The Department listens to everyone; but not every idea and concept can or will be adopted. Not everyone's candidate will get elected either. Still, your vote counts, each and every time you choose to participate in the process.