November 8, 1938. ‘Poachers’ Create a Better System of Management.
In 1938, by an overwhelming majority, Idaho voters approved an initiative that established a Fish and Game Commission to oversee a fish and wildlife management department that hired only trained enforcement personnel and professional wildlife managers and offered civil service protection for employees.
The plan called for a five-member commission of people with a demonstrated interest in wildlife and no more than three from any political party. Commissioners would be appointed by the governor. They would hire a fish and game director and would have the authority to determine season and bag limits. Employees would be hired on merit and could be fired only for cause. It included the policy that wildlife would be preserved, protected, perpetuated and managed.
On November 8, 1938, the voters of Idaho created the Idaho Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Game we know today.
When R.G. Cole, Homer Martin and Dan McGrath delivered the petitions with 24,000 signatures to the secretary of state in July, 1938, they were not at all certain of the outcome in the November 8 election of that year.
Their work was the culmination of nearly three decades of effort. In 1911, Game Warden Frank M. Kendall had recommended “placing the fish and game department of Idaho on a scientific basis and in order to do so we must have men who have made this a study and are familiar with the needs and requirement of this line of work, regardless of political affiliations, and to this end I would recommend … we place the men who are directly in the fish and game department under a civil service ruling and retain them as long as they do good work.”
In 1913 the Idaho Sportsmen’s Association, presented the first formal proposal for game management reform. The legislation calling for a nonpartisan fish and game commission passed in the House but died in the Senate.
Several attempts over the following years failed in the Legislature as well. Until voters took the effort into their own hands in 1938, using a 1912 amendment to the Idaho constitution that allowed voters to put a proposed law on the ballot and enact it by majority vote.
In 1938 sportsmen were better organized. They had seven weeks to gather at least 21,000 certified signatures of registered voters needed to get the petition on the November ballot. On July 7, Cole, Martin and McGrath delivered petitions with 24,000 signatures from around the state to Secretary of State Ira H. Masters. Another 4,000 local signatures were delivered by the deadline.
Three days after the election, the results were still uncertain. The final count on November 29 was overwhelming. The initiative passed with 118,000 votes to 37,442 – 76 percent of the total votes cast. The results included a majority in every county.
On December 10, Lt. Gov. Charles Gossett appointed Walter Fiscus of Potlatch, Bird Hawley of Melba, George Booth of Burley, Stanley Easton of Kellogg and Alton R. Howell of Idaho Falls as the first Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners.
The voters of Idaho, on November 8, 1938, 25 years after the defeat of the first reform proposal, had transformed fish and wildlife management in Idaho.