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Idaho Gives Advocates for Species an Office

by Associated Press
The Oregonian, May 23, 2000

The newly created Office of Species Conservation
will focus on protecting wildlife

STANLEY, Idaho -- In July, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's office expands to accommodate a new staff to handle policy on species that could be headed for federal protection.

Kempthorne says the Office of Species Conservation signals Idaho's commitment to better protect its wildlife resources.

But at least one biologist questions what the office will accomplish.

Wayne Melquist, the nongame wildlife manager for the Idaho Fish and Game Department, said the office could field some administrative and other activities that take his time away from on-the-ground research.

But he said once a species is listed as federally threatened or endangered, it is out of the state's hands -- so he questions why the office is needed.

Advocates of the office, however, pointed out during more than a year of debate on the concept that it would combine not only the science of species conservation but also the social and economic factors in developing a focused policy on the issues.

The Fish and Game Commission came under biting criticism several years ago for endorsing a return of the lower Snake River to its natural free-flowing conditions, implicitly requiring dam breaching, on grounds that biologically it appeared the best way to restore salmon runs.

Although the commission tried to emphasize that it was not taking a stand on the economic, social and other factors that must be considered in effecting any policy decision, it suffered significant loss of credibility with lawmakers adamantly opposed to dam breaching.

The confrontation spawned the plan to leave biology to the Fish and Game Department but focus overall policy in the governor's office.

Melquist also complained about the $500,000 general tax budget the new office will have in light of the Fish and Game Department's nongame program being repeatedly denied general tax support except for receipts from special wildlife vehicle license plates and a voluntary income tax refund diversion.

The public should be paying for the Office of Species Conservation, Melquist said, "but the public also should be paying for wildlife management."

Associated Press
Idaho Gives Advocates for Species an Office
The Oregonian, May 23, 2000

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