Refunds for deer tags questioned by former IFG commissioner

A hunter secures his tags to the antlers of a whitetail buck.

A former Idaho Fish and Game commissioner is questioning why some nonresident hunters were offered refunds last fall following an outbreak of a disease that killed thousands of whitetail deer.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game reached out to hunters in Unit 11A and offered to refund unused tags. The move, first prompted by requests from outfitters in the unit, was made because mortality rates for whitetail deer were exceptionally high in the game management unit, said Fish and Game spokesman Roger Phillips at Boise. Unlike resident hunters, those from out of state don’t have the option to move to other units when instances like disease or wildfire significantly affect hunting success. The department ultimately gave refunds to 99 out-of-state hunters.

“We knew this area was hit hard by (epizootic hemorrhagic disease), and because those nonresidents were restricted only to that unit and could not go elsewhere, we gave them the option to get a refund if they turned in their unused tag,” Phillips said.

He said the move was discussed during an open commission meeting at Lewiston in November and authorized by Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever. The offers were sent, via email, to nonresident tag holders in late November, while the season was still open.

But Dan Blanco, a former commissioner from Moscow, said the agency should have been more transparent both about the offer and the extent of deer mortality in the area.

“That is awfully late in the game to be offering a refund on a tag. Why was that offer made to nonresidents when no offer was made to residents and why was this not made public? It’s an extraordinary move. I can’t think of an instance when refunds were made on an unsolicited basis to nonresident hunters.”

Blanco believes resident hunters should have been made aware of the refund offer and the extent of deer mortality in the unit so they could make more informed comments to the agency in March prior to the setting of fall deer hunting seasons. The commission eliminated 1,500 extra antlerless tags in the Clearwater Region, including 300 in Unit 11A, for the fall 2022 season in response to the EHD outbreak.

Phillips said the department didn’t issue a news release because it was able to reach the nonresident hunters via email and the refund had been discussed in November.

“We reached out to the holders of those tags to give them that information, and we also discussed it in an open session of a commision meeting,” he said. “There was nothing happening behind the scenes.”

Barker is the Outdoors Editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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