Who Is The Idaho Wildlife Federation?
By Karen Schumacher
What is the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) really about? Many sportsmen, and women, have been led to believe that IWF is a pro-hunting advocacy group. Looking at their activities and associations creates some concerns about this position.
When Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) failed in their mission to have wildlife overpasses desecrate the Island Park area, and now IWF being an “affiliate” of the Henry’s Fork Wildlife Alliance (HFWA) taking over the cause, it is important to understand IWF is just as consumed with the same objectives as Y2Y. Along with Y2Y doing the same, IWF has revamped their website through one year of free marketing from the Drake Cooper Advertising Dream Big program to create a “fresh brand identity aligning with our values” in order to grow their membership.
As much as IWF tries to dissociate itself from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), it is an affiliate with NWF being a Y2Y partner, IWF even paying annual membership dues. In the Y2Y Safer roads for Idaho campaign promoting wildlife overpasses, along with Y2Y, IWF partners with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG), The Nature Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Society. IWF has cited its support for “connected landscapes“, and wildlife overpasses which are needed for connectivity.
It just so happens that NWF and Y2Y are International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) members, just type their names in the search box. IUCN is a non-governmental organization (NGO) vested in protecting land and habitat, not using it. Now why would IWF want to be even indirectly associated with the IUCN through its partnerships?
IWF attempts to dilute their mission with other NGOs involved in protecting wildlife and habitat, but the statement, “may differ on political or personal philosophies” is negated with “we share a common passion for the resource none the less.” That passion is conservation. The statement, “IWF fosters and promotes a general and continued movement for the conservation, restoration, protection, and scientific supervision of all game, fish, fowl, and other wildlife in the state” pretty much summarizes most of its activity. Just looking at IWF affiliate NWF, the wildlife conservation focus is protecting endangered species, recovering wildlife such as wolves and sage grouse, and advocating for conservation policies.
Current IWF Board of Directors include Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) and Trout Unlimited (TU) members, with an Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation liaison. Past directors include Idaho Conservation League (ICL), IDFG Commission, and Idaho Department of Lands individuals. The 2018 990 tax form lists other NGO board members, Michael Gibson, TU Idaho Field Coordinator, and Neil Thagard, former TRCP Western Outreach Director. Several of these NGOs have been in partnership with Y2Y such as ICL, NWF, TU, BHA, TRCP, and IDFG.
IWF believes private property owners trespass across public land by blocking access, even having a snitch and reward program for owners who post no trespassing signs. IDFG has a program, Access Yes!, where hunters can access public land for hunting and a trespassing law specific to the issue of accessing public land over private property, a law that was enacted because of private property owner problems with trash and damage on their property from individuals crossing their property without permission. IWF is once again bringing a previously failed bill to the legislature this year that includes civil penalties for property owners, which ICL “friends” have supported. Who made IWF the Mayberry Sheriff?
In testimony to the Idaho Subcommittee on Public Land and Forests, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2006, IWF was very clearly opposed to relinquishing public land for use, or “grandfathering in any further uses than already exist in the Wilderness Act.” IWF strongly supports federal land ownership and management.
If there is any question that IWF wants expanded conservation of land, IWF recommended incorporation of a 85,930 conservation area to ensure protection, avoiding and minimizing development, support for migration corridors, and continued conservation of land on a Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plan in 2019. IWF also recommended a retention and expansion of the ACECs. Interestingly, IWF also states, “multiple uses often may not be compatible with each other on the same landscape” and “outdoor recreation negatively impacts wildlife”. Recommendations for grazing included tightly controlled “timing, intensity, duration and frequency…to meet the needs of CSTG“. IWF has been involved in other grazing lawsuits, and has also supported displacement of sheep grazing for Grizzly protection, which didn’t appear to be associated with increased hunting opportunities. Pretty big statements on controlled or non-use of public land.
Along with their other NGO buddies, IWF is a partner with Advocates for the West which is the highly funded legal organization that files suits on behalf of environmental groups. IWF even joins hands with ICL, Idaho Sierra Club, and Idaho Rivers United (IRU) on issues, participates in lawsuits with the same, for years, even to “repeatedly work in combination to attack the Dams” as stated by one Judge.
These groups sue for conservation issues, not hunting access. IWF has no problem suing cattle associations for wildlife and habitat protection, not for increased hunting, but because it “favors domestic livestock grazing” over sage grouse habitat protection. Partnerships in conservation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service, along with other NGOs, is no problem for IWF. Suing for conservation of wildlife gives the appearance of increasing wildlife numbers for hunting, but with those wildlife on conserved land, does hunting benefit?
Over the years, IWF has opposed mining, dredging, dam construction, and predator control; facilitated the establishment of wilderness areas; supported the Salmon River Wild & Scenic designation and IDFG fee increases; “influence the decisions that will preserve sage grouse habitat and enhance sage grouse populations”, and has jointly sued on grazing issues. Nothing here reflects more access to hunting or other recreational opportunities. Many of these activities have only increased the cost of hunting and more land use restrictions. More recently, IWF supported the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness designation via a letter to Governor Otter stating, “the area would have the highest level of protection”. Wilderness designations and other protected areas such as national monuments are needed for NGO connectivity agendas. The updated IWF website doesn’t provide this type of information, and continues to be involved in Idaho’s dredge mining issues, which ICL especially opposes.
There are a couple of other issues not mentioned on the website. As a prior IWF partner, BHA has now been removed. Also, IWF was a founding member of Save Our Wild Salmon (SOWS) which supports dam removal, wild & scenic river designations, and continues to be a member along with their other NGO pals. So intimate is the relationship between IWF and SOWS, that Brian Brooks, IWF Executive Director (ED) is a SOWS board member. As a member of the Idaho Salmon Workgroup, IWF Mr. Brooks advocates for increased salmon, just short of asking for dam breaching. However, just like IWF friends, dam breaching is the favor of IRU and ICL. Now why would the IWF ED choose to be part of an NGO that supports the same issues as Earthjustice? In spite of Governor Little stating he doesn’t believe breaching dams would recover salmon, he chose to put dam breaching advocates on the workgroup.
Some other interesting IWF positions include “prioritizing habitat protection, restoration”; advocating for “state and federal programs that aid and reward landowners to protect these habitats”; incentivizing “landowners from selling open space to development”; and continuing “to grow our outreach and conservation on private lands in Idaho.” This is all about conserving land for wildlife and habitat. The juxtaposition here is both the IWF and their NGO friends want to protect or conserve wildlife and habitat for enhancing wildlife numbers, however IWF claims it is to protect hunting and fishing, which is not the stated position of some other NGOs, or even in their 2018 990 tax form.
IWF has a long history in political advocacy. They were instrumental in creating the Idaho Fish & Game Commission for the sole purpose of conservation and under the Obama administration joined hands with other conservation NGOs for the “shared goal of protecting wildlife and natural resources from the impacts of global warming”.
In spite of IWF expounding on working for access to hunting and increasing wildlife numbers and their habitat, there is nothing to be found on what exactly it has accomplished to achieve this mission. Instead, the same as Y2Y, IWF supports wildlife overpasses, migration corridors, partner with other NGOs that pursue non-use of land, accepts funding for the Y2Y program area from the same foundations as other NGOs, and everything it participates in is related to land conservation and non-use. Its 2017 990 tax form even states its program service accomplishments include “education of the public about the conservation and protection of our natural resources, wildlife, and wildlife habitat”. It doesn’t state anything about increasing wildlife populations for hunting or access.
NWF supported the introduction of wolves, citing “there is little biological need for restrictions.” and “played a key role in developing” the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan that “called for wolves to be translocated to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho; fostered natural re-colonization in northwestern Montana as wolves moved southward from Canada”; opposed reclassification of the gray wolf to a “threatened” status; and removal of protection under the Endangered Species Act. Even though it was in 1997, IWF joined NWF and Defenders of Wildlife in a lawsuit to keep wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Since wolves have been reintroduced, they have caused massive devastation to local economies and lives, and contribute to reduced Elk populations. Are wolves included in the IWF wildlife protections, the same as their NWF affiliate?
Prior to the new website, the IWF mission was to foster and promote “a general and continued movement for the conservation, restoration, protection, and scientific supervision of all game, fish, fowl, and other wildlife in its habitat in the state.” and “defeat bills that would roll back fish and wildlife protections”. Nothing has changed with IWF, just the messaging. IWF partners with NGOs that are diametrically opposed to the promotion of hunting and use of land, rather conserving and protecting it for “future generations”. It is clear that IWF actively promotes conservation of land, not use, supports positions through associations that would economically devastate land owners through dam removal and restricted grazing, protected designations, civil actions with penalties against land owners, and keeping land under federal management.
Perhaps current IWF membership is because of these conservation values, more so than for the hunting or increased access. It might be that members are aware of IWF activities that are heavily focused on land and wildlife protection and are fully comfortable with those activities. However, maybe members should be more aware of IWF involvement with other NGOs who have specific missions for non-use of land.
Increasing wildlife numbers through land conservation actions does not necessarily equate to hunting access. Once recovered or restored, the effort will be for continued conservation, protecting that recovery and restoration, and not necessarily for use. None of these NGOs or IWF itself talk about what happens after wildlife is restored or recovered, just protection into the future. Maybe those who belong to IWF, TRCP, or BHA have the same conservationist philosophy, that land, wildlife, and habitat should be protected into perpetuity, holding the belief that this will increase access to hunting, which is fine. However, there are hunters who believe that hunting has become more difficult and over regulated because of these conservation activities. Each hunter should understand the full picture of these advocacy groups and make their own decisions.