Dec 2010: HLF Board Suspends Future IDFG Project Funds

In the quarterly IDFG commissioner’s meeting in Jerome, Idaho, on November 17-18, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the extension of the fishing season at Henry’s Lake thru January 1. Along with the other IDFG proposals presented and approved all regulation changes will go into affect starting January 1, 2011 so the first extended ice fishing season will be December 2011 through January 1, 2012. Two other approved regulation changes that will directly affect us are 1).

The brook trout bag limit on Henry’s Lake tributaries was changed to 25 with only 2 brook trout over 16″, and 2) The season on the Henry’s Lake tributaries was extended from July 1 through March 31 with catch-and-release for cutthroat trout throughout the entire season.

As many of you know, we have actively lobbied to stop the season extension ever since we first heard about it in July 2009. Almost all of you voted unanimously in the fall 2009 newsletter survey to not extend the season and instead shorten it to the end of October as it was up until 2007. Our argument was that as the premier trophy fishing lake in the Western U.S. and as the last bastion of the Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, Henry’s Lake was deserving of special regulations to preserve that status.

While the Foundation has never lobbied against any type of fishing, it is our view that Henry’s Lake is a unique and fragile fishery and was due special treatment and that a season extension exposed the lake to inordinate trophy harvest and mortality by ice fishermen, particularly when nearby Island Park Reservoir provides ample ice fishing opportunity. In other words, we have a philosophical objection to the IDFG increasingly treating Henry’s Lake as a put-and-take fishery and more fully utilizing the resource while we envision it as a trophy summer sports fishery that needs to be protected.

HLF Director Steve Snipper and I were both in attendance at the meeting to offer our testimony. In addition, many Henry’s Lake anglers in attendance also spoke out against the season extension for the same reasons. Everyone advocated that the resource should be protected and that further liberalization of the regulations puts the fishery at even greater risk.

In opposition, the IDFG justified the season extension based upon fish population statistics claiming that additional harvest by ice fishermen will not adversely affect the fishery. In addition, they presented survey results that showed the majority of randomly surveyed anglers favored an extended season. Interestingly, our survey opinions were largely dismissed as being biased. Although the commissioners appreciated all the impassioned comments, they valued the biologic facts over our social and philosophical concerns. To say the least we are disappointed.

Our mission to protect and enhance the fishery at Henry’s Lake remains unchanged but we face a significant challenge with the IDFG continuing to liberalize the regulations in support of increased angler opportunity and simplification of the regulations – two of their stated strategic goals. Just as the IDFG extended the season in 2007 and then again this year, they may do it again in future years. We have no reassurance that they won’t and even told us so at the November meeting. So where do we go from here.

The HLF directors have voted unanimously to suspend funding of all future IDFG projects until further notice. The Board first suspended funding in October once we confirmed that the IDFG had finalized their proposal and was awaiting the vote of the commissioners. Although we have maintained a strong partnership with the IDFG for the last 29 years, it was too optimistic to think that our social and philosophical arguments would cause them to not extend the season.

I know they considered the consequences of losing our support when the season extension was first proposed but it was still not enough to stop them. Somewhat ironically they actually considered this a compromise since one of their proposals was to extend the season through the end of January. Given the IDFG’s liberalization of the regulations on Henry’s Lake both now and probably again in the future, the foundation needs to rethink its almost exclusive partnership with them.

Despite an excellent historic working relationship with IDFG Regional Biologist Damon Keen, the foundation will now focus on projects and funding opportunities that are not solely reliant upon the IDFG but still maintain our mission to protect and enhance the Henry’s Lake fishery.