A friend sent a note recently recounting a discussion he had with an employee of Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game. My friend is more of a fly fisherman than a hunter. Nonetheless, they talked hunting. He said the Fish & Game employee stated the department is developing data which could show two out of three elk killed in Idaho annually are poached.
That number seemed high so I called my neigbhor, Brad Corkill, who lives a few miles down the road near Rose Lake, and is the north Idaho representative on the Fish & Game Commission.
Corkill said he too thought the number was high, but to a Fish & Game commissioner any number above that of tags sold is too high. He added the figure of two out of three would be hard to prove. It presumes a degree of hard, factual data the department does not yet possess.
If one includes in the “illegal take” the number for “party hunting” (The number shot by one member of a hunting party but someone other than the shooter puts their tag on the game) Corkill conceded the two of three number might be getting close to the real answer.
It should also be pointed out that the number for “road kill” is not utilized though it is an “untagged” taking. As long as one calls the department to report their taking the kill with them, it is legal to do so.
Nonetheless there is ample evidence Idaho has a serious poaching problem. Corkill referred me to Chip Corsi in the regional office. He was informative and helpful in digging into this issue.
Corsi said the number of illegally taken elk was thought to be high by many in the agency, but no one really knew how high. He thought their agency was getting increasingly better at drilling down on the real number and was doing more “focused research” to get at the actual total take. Still there was not enough evidence to warrant significant changes in the length of elk hunting season.
Both Corsi and Corkill praised the work of Citizens Against Poaching, an independent group made up largely of hunters who keep their eyes and ears open for people who brag about illegal takes or, as is often the case in poaching, multiple takes. They report sightings, rumors and suspicions to the agency for follow up.
Both were asked if they thought poaching was ingrained in north Idaho’s “culture?” The argument is the poaching that does occur is often necessity driven----a hunter has little income, has to feed his family and keep the larder full, so he spotlights and shoots game from the road at night even though against the law. The second aspect of this argument is many north Idahoans living up the various creeks, draws and canyons feel any game on their property is fair game and their game. It is viewed as an extension of their right to the benefits of their land ownership.
It would appear also that many hunters do not view “party hunting” as illegal conduct and still view themselves as law-abiding citizens.
Both Corsi and Corkill firmly reject the “in the culture”view. Corsi said there may be some families who hold these views but indicated that at many of the poaching sites Fish & Game discover there are multiple kills perpetrated by hardened criminals---individuals who have committed or are commiting other crimes.
They acknowledge that when one hears a series of rifle shots after dark and a few days before a season opens, it is a poacher at work. Corkill pointed to the obvious: a person doesn’t sight –in his rifle after dark.
Both, though, believe the vast majority of north Idaho hunters are law-abiding citizens who recognize the Fish & Game department is a trustee who manages for the long-term, and whose goal is to create ample opportunities for Idahoans to enjoy hunting for years to come.
Corkill speaks eloquently about the evolution of game management philosophy and the great difference between the European approach and the American. He points out to anyone who will listen that in Europe the landowner does own the game. In the classic tale of Robin Hood one should recall his worst offence for which he was sentenced to die is that of killing the Duke’s deer.
As a consequence hunting in Europe is largely confined to the wealthy, which Corkill sees as tragic.
He also believes the public gets the nexus between future sustainability of big game and the need to be diligent in protecting the resource so the many may enjoy.
Still, when all is said and done, Fish & Game recognizes its responsibility to come up with a valid number on illegal take and to factor that into its calculation of what it takes to protect a resource in order to manage successfully in perpetuity. And while today they may not have a hard number before long they will. The result indeed may be shortening of seasons which can be laid at the feet of the poacher. If you see someone poaching, call Fish & Game. The elk they might be about to kill just could be the one meant for you.