Over 70 percent of all wildlife is born and raised on agricultural land, yet farmers do not have any voice in the management of these game animals that cause untold millions of dollars in damage to farmers’ crops and livestock.
Whitetail deer, elk, beaver, black bear — not to mention wolves — can actually drive farmers out of business, and it doesn’t matter if you are a cattleman, hay grower, orchardist, produce farmer or even a timber grower.
For example, Stevens County, Wash., where I live, is typically deer habitat, which is acknowledged by any wildlife biologist, and not typical elk habitat. However, several years ago a state wildlife biologist wanted to double the small existing elk herd that we have that was already doing a lot of damage to local hay growers. To add insult to injury, he insisted that the elk would winter on private land instead of public land. This is a terrible insult to even suggest such a venture.
A former hay grower I know well who farms 100 acres of irrigated alfalfa nine miles north of Colville stated at a meeting that after he irrigated, fertilized and sprayed, the 150 deer ate one-third of his net profit. He asked the audience of a large group of hunters and wildlife personnel: What businessman can lose a third of his net profit and still remain in business? This is one of many cases.
So what is the remedy?
Agriculture must have a strong voice on the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission. At present, there are nine members that make up the state Fish and Wildlife Commission that are sportsmen and are appointed by the governor. Sometimes a farmer will be appointed to the commission but will always be out-voted by the sportsmen members, or ridiculed.
Several years ago, a lady from the Audubon Society was appointed to the commission by the governor, and I immediately wrote a letter to the governor. Does she fish? Doe she hunt? Did she ever trap? Does she know anything about wildlife management? She finally resigned.
This very same issue existed in my home state of New Jersey, where I grew up on a produce farm in the early 1940s, until the farmers said enough is enough.
And so, agriculture went to the legislature and an entirely new law was enacted. The existing regulations are as follows:
• The Fish and Game Commission shall consist of 11 members, each of whom shall be chosen with regard to his knowledge of and interest in the conservation of fish and wildlife.
• Each member of the commission shall be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.
• Three of such members shall be farmers, recommended to the governor for appointment to the commission by the agricultural convention held pursuant to article 2 of chapter 1 of title 4 of the revised statutes.
• Six members shall be sportsmen recommended to the governor for appointment to the commission by the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen Clubs.
• Two members shall be commercial fishermen.
Also, the state allows an owner of a farm and his family members to hunt and fish on their own land without being licensed. However, this does not allow a non-family member or worker the same privileges.
I threw my hat in the ring in September of 1969 and at the agricultural convention in Trenton I was voted in for a four-year term to be the next farmer commissioner from the seven southern counties of the state and was appointed by Gov. William T. Cahill and confirmed by the Senate.
After serving six years as a farmer representative on the state Fish and Game Commission, I can honestly say that three of us farmers and the two commercial fishermen, who called themselves “farmers of the sea,” and one or two sportsmen always held the majority in making fair and just decisions.
If any agricultural organization would like to take on the status of the make-up of our present structure of the WDFW, I would be most happy to help, as I strongly know how it could pass, and how it could fail in the legislature.
Tony Delgado is a former Stevens County commissioner and former New Jersey state fish and game commissioner.