Photo controversy shows importance of responsible hunting

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It’s a disturbing photo, one made even more so by the crassness of the email that accompanied it.

A smiling member of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, is pictured with a family of dead baboons, including what appears to be a juvenile. The result of a recent hunt in Africa, the commissioner captioned the photo in a mass email to his friends and colleagues in September, bragging of his accomplishment.

“First day she [the commissioner’s wife] wanted to watch me, and ‘get a feel’ of Africa,” he wrote. “So I shot a whole family of baboons. I think she got the idea quick.”

Within a few weeks of the email, which also included photos and details of the other animals the commissioner killed on the hunt, including a giraffe and a leopard, Fish and Game officials past and present began calling for his resignation. When the email began to make the rounds on national media outlets, reaction online and on social media was swift. Criticism poured in from pro-hunting and anti-hunting groups alike, a show of solidarity between groups who rarely agree on anything.

“I don’t know how you can say anything good about a photo of a guy smiling with a stack of dead baboons with a baby in front,” former Fish and Game commissioner Keith E. Carlson told the Idaho Statesman.

The Idaho governor’s office received over 1,000 emails or phone calls about the issue, with a spokesman reporting that feedback was “overwhelmingly against (an estimated 95 percent) the commissioner’s actions,” according to the Idaho Statesman. On Monday, Idaho governor Butch Otter asked for and received the commissioner’s resignation.

“I have high expectations and standards for every appointee in state government,” Otter said in a press release. “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. [The commissioner] did not.”

The debate between subsistence hunting and hunting for trophies is one that has raged for years, and not one that will be settled in the editorial pages of the Powell Tribune. But those of us who grew up as hunters were taught from an early age about the ethics involved in the activity, usually by a parent or another responsible adult.

And one of the lessons taught is to never act in a way that will turn those who don’t hunt into detractors of those that do.

A story in today’s Tribune outlines a mentoring program offered by the nonprofit organization Wyoming Outdoorsmen, in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Mentors recently took several local young people on their first deer hunts. The program, called First Hunt, is generally aimed at serving youth “who might otherwise miss out on hunting due to unforeseen issues on the home front.”

Game and Fish leaders have admitted that the number of hunters and anglers are on the decline, and programs like First Hunt are designed to attract and recruit young hunters to the sport. The ethics of hunting is a vital component of the mentoring program, and the lessons learned will hopefully be passed down to future generations.

For many, the recent debacle in Idaho represented a breach of hunting etiquette, a lack of ethical sportsmanship and a lack of respect for the animals harvested.

With the help of mentoring programs like First Hunt, it’s our hope that the next generation of hunters will take these lessons to heart.

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