Licensing of Outfitters and Guides and IOGA Monitoring

As early as 1951, persons providing horses for hunting and fishing or assisting others in taking fish and game on a commercial basis were required to obtain annual licenses from the Idaho Fish and Game Department. However, the department was not provided rule making authority. Therefore, any applicant of “good moral character” who paid the license fee and posted a bond was licensed. This occurred a decade before the Forest Service began similar regulation of outfitting and guiding.

The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Board, later renamed the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board (IOGLB), was created in 1961 by the legislature with the support of the IOGA. The IOGLB is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of those who utilize outfitted services.

The IOGLB is a self-governing state agency and is recognized throughout the nation as one of the most comprehensive licensing programs in existence. Idaho was the first state to license outfitters and guides with a bonding requirement for outfitters. An outfitter is someone who offers guided trips for compensation. A guide is an outfitter's employee. Guides must be certified in first aid. They must train with a licensed outfitter, and they must be licensed with the state board. To operate legally in Idaho, outfitters and guides must be licensed with the IOGLB.

Initially, the IOGB consisted of three experienced outfitters appointed by the Governor. Minimum qualifications of licensees were specified and a list of grounds for suspension or revocation were listed.

In 1965, the outfitter statute was amended to include boating on specified rivers. The board was expanded to include two non-outfitters, one a member appointed by the IDFG Commission, and the other a public interest representative appointed by Governor. All are appointed for three-year terms. The 1965 legislature also formalized a system of territories for deer and elk hunting outfitters that confined them to specific identified areas.

The statute allows for the Association to nominate two qualified outfitter/guides to the Governor for the outfitter/guide positions. An interview process is conducted by the IOGA board of directors prior to sending names to the Governor.

The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Board statute has been amended by the legislature on a number of occasions since 1965. IOGA has monitored all these occasions and when necessary lobbied actively regarding notable changes such as license fee increases. The license fees requests are generally vetted during the IOGA annual winter meetings. The IOGA supports a strong IOGLB and it is important for them to have the financial wherewithal to be successful in carrying out its primary duties. During times of financial distress for the industry like the great depression of 2008-09, the legislature rejected an IOGLB proposal for license fee increases. It was a period of financial belt tightening.

Annual renewal of license fees in 2022 are $450 for outfitters and $105 for guides.

Rules of the IOGLB must be approved by the Idaho legislature and IOGA has tracked, testified and lobbied as needed. Rule changes must be published and public hearings held. Some noteworthy rule changes over the years have included deer and elk tag allocation, definitions of use, non-use and zero use, unethical/unprofessional conduct, sales agreements and third-party agreements. The number of float and jet boat outfitters for licensable rivers, lakes and reservoirs was established along with an advisory committee for backcountry skiing licensing by rule. Also, the requirements for hunting outside of assigned hunt areas including controlled hunts, wolf trapping and minor and major license amendments have been addressed.

Several significant issues have related to how much if any outfitting and guiding should occur on private lands as well as on public lands and waters where traditional outfitting had not occurred except for some grandfathered instances (waterfowl) and previously licensed turkey hunting on private lands owned or leased in the Clearwater Region of northcentral Idaho. In 2008, the IOGLB convened a waterfowl and turkey hunting task force that included agency, public and outfitting representatives. The outcome of this year-long effort was that there was no expansion of either of these activities. While the IOGLB has the authority to regulate outfitting for deer and elk hunting on private lands, a system of harvest quotas on private lands owned by outfitters was ultimately established.

A Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) has existed between the IOGLB, USFS and BLM since the late 1990s. This MOU is updated approximately every five years. The purpose of this MOU is to provide procedures and guidance for coordination and cooperation on issues involving the administration and operation of outfitters and guides on National Forest System land and BLM public lands within the State of Idaho. The MOU includes s a list of what the IOGLB, the USFS and the BLM shall do. The exhibits and attachments include:

  • Sale and transfer of a licensed and permitted business
  • New outfitting opportunity proposed by an individual
  • New outfitting opportunity proposed by an agency of IOGLB
  • Guidelines for amending an existing license or permit
  • Outfitter-Guide performance rating guidelines and rating form
  • Land Manager’s statement
  • Preliminary outfitter operating proposal

In January 2008, IOGLB and IDFG signed an MOU providing procedures and guidance for coordination and cooperation between these two state agencies on the appropriate management of Idaho’s fish and wildlife resources related to the licensing and regulation of Idaho’s outfitting industry. This MOU was updated in 2015.

Staffing of the IOGLB has evolved from one secretary assisted by the board chairman to full time professional staff with an executive director with several staff focused on license issuance, tag allocation and customer service. Executive directors have included Dean Sangrey, Jake Howard and Lori Thomasen. In terms of longevity, Wayne Hunsucker of Lucile, Idaho, served as the public representative of the IOGLB for more than 20 years beginning in the late 1990s.

“Some confuse the IOGA and the IOGLB. There should be no confusion when it comes to the monitoring and the organized input on issues and ideas that IOGA does on behalf of its members. IOGA does its homework

Dean Sangrey, former Executive Director

Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board

In 2019, then Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, initiated a process to reduce state rules and regulations. Once one of fifteen self-governing boards, IOGLB is now administered by Anne Lawler who has the title of Executive Officer and Bureau Chief of Occupational Licenses. She administers seven other agencies in addition to IOGLB. The IOGLB continues to have five board members who meet four times annually. The IOGLB continues to have five board members who meet four times annually. Several previous staff members of the IOGLB are now employed as part of the overall 240-plus employees of DOPL who are now located in a central location in Boise. The enforcement component of the various agencies has been centralized also. The primary purpose of DOPL is to provide consumer protection and public safety through its regulation of more than 204,000 licensees within the 48 boards and commissions.

IOGA and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Quality fish and wildlife habitat and populations is an outfitter business necessity that has permeated the relationship between the industry and the IDFG, its Commission, headquarters and regional staff. Building and maintaining positive relationships with all is constant for IOGA staff, its leadership and membership.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission was created by public initiative in 1938. The initiative stated that “All wildlife, including all wild animals, wild birds, and fish, within the state of Idaho, is hereby declared to be the property of the state of Idaho. It shall be preserved, protected, perpetuated, and managed. It shall be only captured or taken at such times or places, under such conditions, or by such means, or in such manner, as will preserve, protect, and perpetuate such wildlife, and provide for the citizens of this state and, as by law permitted to others, continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.”.

Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Idaho State Senate. They serve staggered four-year terms. No more than four commissioners may be from the same political party The seven commissioners, each representing a different region of the state, are responsible for administering the fish and game policy of the state. One outfitter, IOGA past president Norm Guth, has served on the Commission (late 1980s).

Big game hunting seasons in regular deer units and controlled hunts, elk zones and controlled hunts, including controlled deer and elk hunts for the outfitted public, are established during the annual or biannual March meeting of the Commission.

IOGA monitors IDFG rulemaking, biological and non-biological, updating of big game and fish plans and legislation affecting the public such as license and tag fee increases.

1994. Pictured left to right. Sandy Podsaid, Jeff Bitton, Jim Thrash, Mike Scott, Will Judge, Bob Anderson.

U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management Permitting, Fees and Planning

Over sixty percent of Idaho’s land mass are public lands. In order to operate legally on lands and waters managed by the USFS and BLM, outfitters must not only be licensed by the State, but also obtain a Special Use Permit (SUP) from these two federal agencies. A SUP is associated with an individual outfitter operating plan. Together they describe the terms and conditions for outfitter operations on a specific public resource. 

Both the USFS and BLM now provide for a ten-year permit rather than a five-year permit. Use review by the agencies occur at the five-year mark. In other words, use it or lose it, regarding the number of launches on allocated rivers or use days on land-based operations or on rivers that are managed by the number of use days. 

The advantages of a ten-year permit are that they provide outfitters the stability and security necessary for them to make significant investments needed to provide the level of service the public demands. In addition, longer permit terms provide outfitters an opportunity to more easily secure necessary financing and allows them to engage in long-term business planning that enables them to operate more efficiently and effectively. Another plus for longer term permits is the reduction of agency administrative costs. 

It’s a tough deal to operate a business on public lands. You start with a two-year process of plowing through environmental studies and government bureaucracy in hopes of getting a special-use permit to operate an outfitting business on public land. And then, if you’re lucky enough to get through that process, the government will take a slice of your annual revenues in the form of annual three percent fees that must be paid to the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Those fees are three percent of an outfitters’ annual gross receipts for offering fishing trips, whitewater trips, hunting, pack and winter activity trips. As an example, if an outfitter charges $300 for a half-day fishing trip, $9 of that revenue must be paid to the local Forest Service or BLM district office on an annual basis. 

At one time, all these fees went directly to the U.S. Treasury, never to be seen again. But nowadays, up to ninety percent of the fees are available to the local forest or BLM district to fund recreation improvement projects and/or administration of outfitter permits. 

Idaho outfitters also collect and pay user fees on some of the most popular rivers in Idaho: The South Fork of the Snake River in eastern Idaho; the Payette River system; the Middle Fork of the Salmon River; and the Main Salmon River from Corn Creek to Carey Creek. The general public and outfitters pay the same $4 per-person-per-day fees to boat the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon Rivers. Originally, the $4 fee was $5. IOGA discovered that these collected fees were not being spent, so we lobbied successfully to have the fee lowered to $4/person/per day. 

On the Main and South Fork Payette Rivers and the South Fork Snake it’s a parking fee per vehicle. These fees also are kept at the local ranger or BLM district office and spent on improvement projects for the boating public. These expenditures can include boat ramp improvements, rest rooms, facilities for the disabled, parking lot improvements, garbage fees, toilet-pumping costs and more. 

Original Idaho national forest and BLM district plans of the 1980s generally mentioned commercial outfitting in a cursory manner and in many cases simply lumped outfitting in with dispersed recreation, perhaps a paragraph. There was no mention of the numbers of outfitters nor specification of whether they were water or land-based in forest plans. In fact, one plan went so far as to specify where there was to be no outfitting in a particular area with no reasoning as to why. 

The economic value of the industry was ignored in older plans. Forest economists on forest planning teams in the 21st century can gain access to the amount of fees paid by outfitters that could then be extrapolated and with the use of commonly accepted multipliers could legitimately assess the economic impact of the industry on a specific Idaho national forest. 

Tag Allocation for Hunt Outfitters

 Access to Fish and Game deer and elk tags for outfitted clients is a necessity for a viable hunt outfitter business. So is a fair system of assigning these tags to a licensed hunt outfitter business by the Licensing Board. IOGA has been involved successfully with legislation and subsequent rulemaking to provide for the viability of the hunt industry on multiple occasions since the mid-1980s.

In the early 1980s, non-resident deer and elk tags began to sell out earlier and earlier each year. In 1986 IOGA successfully lobbied for state legislation that provided for a set aside of non-resident tags, based on historical use, through June 30th of each year. Thus, this provided time for outfitters to market their businesses. This was a period in history when Idaho’s big game herds were in good shape both from a quantity and quality point of view. By the mid-1990s, quantity and quality among certain elk herds had declined.

In March of 1997, the Idaho Legislature passed legislation and Governor Phil Batt signed into law a provision that enabled the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to allocate deer and elk tags to the outfitted public when and if hunting opportunity became restricted in a specific hunt management area that had been open to general hunting previously. Agency rules, IDFG and State Licensing Board were subsequently approved. Without tag allocation, outfitters would not have access to tags to market their businesses once hunting opportunity became restricted. In 1998, the Lolo Zone in northcentral Idaho was the first of many zones to be restricted.

IOGA proposed amendment to the allocation and set-aside

During 2019 and 2020, an IOGA committee worked to amend the set aside and allocation law governing the allocation of elk and deer tags for the outfitted public. This included a half dozen meetings with the Idaho Fish and Game Department (IDFG), and several meetings with the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board (IOGLB).  

The reason to amend the current set-aside (1986) and Allocation Law (1997) are as follows:

  1. Over the past 21 years of allocation, using the current IOGLB process, 61% of the allocated tags have been taken/removed from the original outfitters and put in a surplus pool. These tags are hard to use for some outfitters and not available to other outfitters. This has reduced the value of these businesses and makes it harder to grow when times are better.
  2. Outfitted hunter tags numbers are not recorded by IOGLB correctly to provide for a record of true historical use.
  3. Allocated tag numbers in capped elk management zones do not follow the hunter demand for outfitted services. Some zones are too high while others zones are too low in the number of allocated tags. This hurts the IDFG by not selling nonresident tags earlier that get turned back, and hurts the outfitted hunters by not providing enough tags for the need of outfitted services.

Key points and concepts behind this legislation:

  1. It will set a minimum number of set-aside tags that will change based on the highest year of use statewide of outfitted elk and deer tags.
  2. It uses nonresident set-aside tags for the tags that are allocated in capped and controlled hunts. It will not take away from resident tag numbers. 
  3. Residents can use an allocated tag at the resident price.
  4. Every two years, outfitters allocation of tags will be reviewed.
  5. The F&G commission will consider changing the number of allocated tags in a capped zone every two years based on the highest year of outfitted use in the past five years.
  6. The F&G Commission will consider changing the number of allocated tags in controlled hunts every two years based on the highest one in five years from each outfitter tag use.
  7. IOGLB will designate the number of allocated tags to outfitters in a fair and equitable manner.

Who will be affected by this change of legislation?

  • The IDFG will be able to adjust the number of non-resident elk and deer tags in the set-aside pool every two years. That number will closely follow the true use of set-aside and allocated tags. The use of a signed agreement needed to purchase allocated tags will provide valid historical use of outfitted tags. This system will also be used to record and verify use other than allocated tags.
  • Residents will be able to purchase an outfitted allocated tag for a resident price. The outfitted allocated set-aside tags will be a separate number than the number of tags established for residents and non-residents and will come from the non-resident set-aside pool. There will be no decrease on the number of resident tags in capped and controlled hunts.
  • Outfitter businesses will benefit by having an adequate number of nonresident elk and deer tags set-aside in a statewide pool, a better record of historical use of allocated elk and deer tags through the use of a signed agreement and recording of use through the Fish and Game Point Of Sale system. Outfitter businesses will benefit from change in IOGLB law by having a better system of designating the number of tags for each outfitter business.

This legislation was signed into law and implemented in 2021. IOGA successful legislative efforts in 2022 included additional refinements to allocation. IOGA President Jeff Bitton has been front and center on the recent allocation legislative efforts.

Public Lands Treasured by Idahoans 

Upwards of sixty percent of Idaho’s land mass are public lands managed by federal agencies. Over ninety percent of licensed and special use permitted outfitter operations provide service to the outfitted public occur on public lands, rivers and streams. 

There have been a number of attempts at either the national or state levels to dispose of or sell public lands including the “Sagebrush Rebellion” in the 1980s.

In the 2010s, the Idaho legislature studied this issue again and wisely decided not to change the status quo. In summary, it is safe to say that Idahoans, including outfitters and guides, value their public lands and are willing to fight to keep them public.

Wilderness Designation and Management

Idaho has roughly 53,530,880 acres and of that 4,796,880 are federally protected as wilderness. Eight are located on national forest lands (Selway Bitterroot, Frank Church River of No Return, Sawtooth, Hells Canyon, Gospel Hump, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds, Hemingway-Boulders, Jim McClure-Jerry Peak), six on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (Big Jacks Creek, Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers, Little Jacks Creek, North Fork, Owyhee River, Pole Creek), and one managed by the National Park Service (Craters of the Moon). IOGA has been actively involved in designation efforts of many of these because outfitters felt preservation was preferable to development. The Wilderness Act of 1964 mentions recreation as one of the attributes. The Act also states that outfitting services may exist to the extent necessary.

In the lead up to the Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980, IOGA joined other advocates who lobbied Congress for a contiguous wilderness of nearly 2.3 million acres rather than a much smaller one of 600,000 acres. At that time, there were approximately 27 land-based outfitters and over 65 float and jet boat businesses on the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers.

Can Outfitters Live with Wilderness?

America Outdoors Past President's Message by Doug Tims (1996)

My heart has always been with Hobnail Tom. Hobnail was Tom Edwards, a Montana pack outfitter who, in 1969, traveled twice to Washington, DC to speak in support of designating part of Montana's backcountry as wilderness. Tom spoke to Congress about the thousands of people, "the old, many past 70, the young, the rich, the great and little people like myself" who he had been privileged to take into Montana's wild lands on horseback. Hobnail said, "I must keep faith with them. Around countless campfires year after year they have urged me to speak for them when and if the time came to save this Lincoln Scapegoat Back Country. Don't let this majestic land down!" The Scapegoat Wilderness, part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex is the result. 

 In 1978, Norm Guth, past president of Idaho Outfitters and Guides and my mentor, was photographed at the oars of a sweep boat as he took Jimmy Carter down the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Two years later, President Carter signed a bill that designated 2.4 million acres of Idaho's backcountry as wilderness. It was a hard legislative battle. The timber industry wanted only 1.1 million acres set aside. Norm worked with the Sierra Club, the governor, hundreds of outfitters, thousands of their clients, and others to win the larger amount.

 I suspect that Tom and Norm saw wilderness as I do -- thousands and thousands of acres of pristine country interspersed with an access web of trails, rivers, camps and airfields. The web is very important to outfitters. The web includes the system of allocating times when we can go (river launches) and places where we can base our operations (reserved camps) -- both necessities of a viable, professionally run outfit. It makes possible the opportunity to take people to places we would otherwise be unable to visit. The web contains some structures for access -- trail support structures and bridges. Some structures, corrals and hitch racks, protect the resource from the inevitable impact of stock use. With the web, we've grown very good at leaving hardly a footprint in the pristine areas, and have shown continual improvement in minimizing our impact on the web itself. 

 Including the web in wilderness was critical to getting the 100-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System we have today. The web supports and enables a broad coalition of uses and users. The 1964 Wilderness Act started with 9.5 million acres. Back then, a 20–30-million-acre system was the vision. By including things many don't consider "pure" wilderness in the web, things to enable use, a coalition of fishermen, backcountry horsemen, floaters, outfitters and many more who consider themselves conservationists built a much larger wilderness system.

 The system as we know it is in danger. To understand why, you need to know the Wilderness Act and how it is being interpreted. 

Wilderness defined - "wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use 

in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value." (Emphasis added)

Administration and Use of wilderness - "Except as otherwise provided in this Act, each agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area and shall so administer such area for such other purposes for which it may have been established as also to preserve its wilderness character. Except as otherwise provided in this Act, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.

Prohibitions in wilderness - "Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated by this Act and, except as necessary to meet the minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area."

Special Provisions - (1) Within wilderness areas designated by this Act the use of aircraft or motorboats, where these uses have already become established, may be permitted to continue subject to such restrictions as the Secretary of Agriculture deems desirable.  (5) Commercial services may be performed within the wilderness areas designated by this Act to the extent necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas. 

 Using the general prohibition of commercial services and the discretionary ("may be performed"..."to the extent necessary"...."activities which are proper") language in the Act, Bill Worf, leader of a group called Wilderness Watch in Montana, is succeeding in forcing a purist interpretation of the Act on the federal agencies. His position -- Commercial services are inconsistent with the legal definition of wilderness. Commercial services are not a "vestige of primitive America" on wild and scenic rivers. Access to rivers and wildlands should only be determined through freedom of choice. If a commercial service can be provided for an activity outside of wilderness, it should not be allowed in wilderness. Only people who have a "need" for wilderness should be allowed in. People who respond to an outfitter brochure do not have a "need" for wilderness. Managing agencies must do a "needs" analysis on all existing and proposed outfitter operations. Wilderness areas should be set aside where users do not have their experience degraded by having to share use with outfitted users.

 Lest you believe his views too extreme to carry any weight, consider this. USFS Chief Thomas proclaimed Worf a "living spirit of wilderness" in his keynote speech at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Act in Santa Fe in 1994. The Olympic National Forest booted Kit's Llamas out of a permit to camp one night in the Buckhorn Wilderness in Washington state (Kit, in her 60's, took small groups of other elderly women on wilderness trips with llamas). Pacific Crest Outward Bound was recently denied a permit to operate their wilderness skill training in wilderness because, in Worf's view, it could be done outside wilderness. The Deschutes River draft management plan's preferred alternative is freedom of choice, pushed by Wilderness Watch's Northwest chapter. The established system of 88 reserved camps for fall hunting activities in the 2.4 million acre Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness has been eliminated, along with virtually all of the traditional pole corrals and hitch racks used to protect the resource and restrain stock -- replaced by 60 "assigned" camps using electric tapes and plastic fencing (they look like a cross between a crime scene and the bottom of a ski hill -- ahh wilderness!) -- all the result of a federal lawsuit by Wilderness Watch.

 At Camp Washington '94, the Forest Service National Leader for Wilderness told us the agency's vision of wilderness was "an area influenced only by nature with no imprint of man." That's quite different from the Act's view of "generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable." (Emphasis added)

 Interpretation of the Act is critical to the web of supporting trails, stock facilities and systems of camps and launches. The reason is that the Act generally prohibits commercial activities and structures. The only exception to these prohibitions is for the minimum necessary for administering wilderness -- in other words, up to the agency to decide -- may, not shall. A much smaller outfitting industry that competes for clients through a freedom of choice scheme is what Worf envisions. We would be denied access to many areas reserved only for those who come to wilderness on their own. Without necessary stock facilities and a degraded trail system, the only way to control stock impact will be to drastically reduce levels of use. 

 Can Worf be reasoned with? In 1994 Jim Thrash, former IOGA president, sought a truce with Worf after 20 years of fighting. He asked Worf if we couldn't all take credit for improved conditions and declare wilderness the winner. "No," Worf said, "I'm going to the rivers next."

 Worf's zealotry is driving support away from wilderness. Five years ago, IOGA had twenty-eight packers lined up to support adding the area where they work to Idaho's wilderness system. I think eventually we could have gotten two to three million more acres added to an existing four-million-acre system in the state. Today, I doubt you could find five of the twenty-eight supporting more wilderness.

 I believe outfitters are crucial to the long-term health of the system. Our role in providing what Kevin Coyle termed "the conversion experience" helps maintain a constituency among the public in support of wilderness. Without a constituency, the system is at risk in a world of increasing population placing increasing pressure on natural resources and wild lands.

 I've long felt that our environmental group friends would help us in this wilderness management battle. To date they have not. Three times I have been to DC to seek The Wilderness Society's support for Congressional language that would protect our industry's necessities -- allocated launches, reserved camps and protective structures for stock users. They refused.

 This struggle with Worf has led me to a difficult, and I hope temporary, position. If wilderness is to be a place where professional outfitting is "inconsistent" and the people who seek our services have no "need" for it, I want no more. Congress must speak and speak soon on this issue. Is the Hobnail Tom and Norm Guth view of wilderness accurate, or is Bill Worf right? The answer is critical to the future of wilderness outfitting and the system as we know it.

Endangered Species and Effects on Industry

Both the reintroduction of the nonessential, experimental wolves into Idaho (Montana and Wyoming) in 1995 and the listing of Idaho summer Chinook Salmon in 1992 led to economic hardships and/or restrictions on the Idaho outfitting industry.

The IOGA resolution regarding wolf reintroduction lists a number of impacts, particularly on the land-based outfitters. According to the USFWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) Wolf Environmental Impact Statement, Idaho and Montana wolves were eligible for delisting as an endangered species in 2002, having reached the threshold for the number of wolves, 10 packs and 100 wolves per state.

However, it took an additional nine years and an act of Congress in 2011 led by Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Senator John Tester (D-MT) to delist Idaho and Montana wolves, thereby deferring to state management of wolves. In the meantime, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game studies showed that wolf predation was additive to other forms of predation (black bear, mountain lion, etc.) on elk populations particularly in backcountry management zones and units such as northcentral Idaho’s Lolo Zone (units 10 and 12) and other nearby wilderness management zones and units.

In 2021, according to IDFG survey techniques, the annual wolf population exceeded 1,000 wolves when the original goal established by the 1995 USFWS EIS was 100. The reintroduction of wolves in Idaho continues to affect backcountry hunting operations (less hunters and elk).

Lack of Abundance of Listed Chinook Salmon and Steelhead: Impacts on the Industry

Since a listing of threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992, the federal government has spent over $17 billion dollars to restore abundance of listed Snake River spring/summer Chinook Salmon that includes those that return to Idaho including the pristine habitat of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and the mainstem Middle Fork of the Salmon River and its tributaries. In the early 1950s, as many as 450 Chinook spawned in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The average number of Chinook that spawned in the mainstem Middle Fork Salmon River during the second decade of the 21st century was seven.

There are many challenges to the lack of abundance of Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon including multiple species of downstream predators, climate change, ocean conditions and the lower Snake River dams.

In 2010, the biological opinion of NOAA Fisheries brought restrictions on Middle Fork of the Salmon float boating during the spawning season of August 15 to September 15 that limited the number of craft to twelve per each launch group, the elimination of reissuance of cancelled permits and that all boaters stir their craft away from marked redds. In 2022, the biological opinion of NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS was updated to extend the spawning season by one week to August 8 to September 15. The number of craft per launch remains at twelve but is extended by one week. However, permit cancellations during the spawning period will be reissued in 2023 under a system yet to be developed by the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The Middle Fork Outfitters Association response to these limitations was the initiation in 2017 and sponsorship of the Redd Alert volunteer program whose goal is to augment the efforts of the Salmon-Challis National Forests to educate boaters on the need to preserve Chinook Salmon redds by stirring their craft away from known redds.

The rural Idaho fishing economy and Idaho Native American cultural values based on Chinook Salmon as well as listed Steelhead (1992) have been diminished immensely as a result of a lack of abundance. A number of Idaho organizations, both government, non-government, Native American Tribes, including the IOGA, the Salmon River Outfitters Association and Middle Fork Outfitters Association have been involved in political and preservation efforts to restore abundance while protecting the few native fish that do return to Idaho. One can only imagine what a return to abundance would mean to the Idaho rural economy as well as to Idaho Native American Tribes!

The Cooperative Relationship of America Outdoors Association and State Organizations like IOGA

The emergence in 1989 of a national outfitter organization in 1989, America Outdoors (AO), has led to a consistent presence of monitoring and influencing legislation of interest to the industry at the national level in Washington D.C. As important, AO is involved and has been influential with efforts to maintain reasonable BLM, USFS and National Park Service federal use permitting regulations and associated fees that outfitters pay for the privilege of outfitting on public lands and rivers.

David Brown, AO’s first Executive Director, led the organization to prominence from its beginning in 1989 through 2019. Aaron Bannon is presently AO’s Executive Director with a varied background that included thirteen years work with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

The AOA mission “is to help members connect, grow and learn from one another. As a resource for business expertise, we are the only national membership-led organization uniquely committed to helping America’s outfitting businesses and those who supply them. America Outdoors works to support and enhance outfitters, providing resources that help outfitting businesses thrive.” 

AO has built a strong partnership with state and local outfitter associations. Camp Washington is the AO equivalent to IOGA’s Lobby Days. Outfitters from around the country under AO leadership gather in Washington D.C. for annual lobbying of Congress and meetings with national level leadership of the federal land management agencies. IOGA leadership and members have been involved with Camp Washington and assisting with shaping national legislation in support of the industry.

Recent legislative efforts of AO include the May 2022 unanimous vote of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to send to the Senate floor the Simplifying Outdoor Recreation Act. The SOAR Act has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives also. AO and partner organizations have been advocating for changes like those in the SOAR Act for over a decade.

The SOAR Act contains many provisions to improve the permitting policy for outfitters and for agencies such as:

  • Directs agencies to allow the inclusion of substantially similar uses in a permit activity with additional environmental review.
  • Modifies the Forest Service use review formula to the benefit of outfitters and rewards the surrender of unused days to a use pool when applicable.
  • Allows operators to follow state law regarding liability agreements and directs agencies to have consistent policies regarding these agreements within two years.
  • Directs public lands agencies to contemplate additional Categorical Exclusions (CE’s) to streamline the special permitting process. A CE is the least cumbersome level of environmental review.
  • Ensures that programmatic environmental reviews or recreational uses are not subject to cost recovery from permitted outfitters.

In late 2021 and the spring of 2022, both the House and Senate introduced bipartisan supported bills that seek to exempt outfitters who operate multi-day trips on public lands in the backcountry (think six-plus days of hunting and float boat trips) from cumbersome and burdensome overtime requirements that are incompatible with the industry. Overtime requirements based on a forty-hour workweek present significant management challenges for outfitters and threaten the affordability of outfitted trips for the public. Imagine having to change guide crews half way through a backcountry trip because a 40-hour week has been eclipsed in order to comply with present overtime law. Affected Idaho outfitters have been creative thus far in dealing with this issue. There have been many twists and turns to this issue and final resolution is yet to be realized.

America Outdoors provides the industry with an annual conference of meetings and outdoor expo. This late fall gathering, once named Confluence, attracts the largest gathering of outfitters and staff, agency persons and outdoor retailers related to the industry. The location of this event rotates between eastern and western destinations.

Trail Access and Maintenance: Key to Public Access of Idaho’s Public Lands

There are over 10,000 miles of motorized and non-motorized trails in Idaho. Appropriate access to Idaho’s public lands is essential for the outfitted and non-outfitted public. Both system and non-system trails are among the 10,000 miles. The public land agencies, state and federal, focus primarily on maintaining system trails while outfitters and guides include non-system trail maintenance among their priorities for serving the outfitted public.

The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act was passed by Congress with bipartisan support and signed into law in late 2016. The national Backcountry Horsemen of America and The Wilderness Society played pivotal roles in sponsoring this legislation. Many other organizations including America Outdoors and IOGA were integrally involved in highlighting the need for agency attention to deal with deterioration of the nation’s trail system both from a maintenance and capital improvement necessity.

There are over 157,000 miles of trail nationally for hiking, horseback riding, hunting, mountain biking, motorized vehicles and other outdoor activities. According to the Government Accountability Office at the time of the 2016 legislation, the Forest Service was able to maintain about one-quarter of the National Forest System trails to the agency standard. According to the GOA report, the agency faced a trail maintenance backlog of $314 million, and an additional backlog of $210 million in annual maintenance and capital improvements. Further, the GAO stated that a lack of maintenance threatens access to public lands, increases environmental damage, threatens public safety and increases future maintenance costs.

The 2016 law called for the Forest Service to substantially increase the role of partners and volunteers in trail maintenance and established a stewardship credits program for outfitters and guides. Fast forward since the 2016 legislation indicates that in Idaho and elsewhere, the Forest Service has positioned significant resources to increase trail maintenance, capital improvements and partnerships with volunteers, non-governmental organizations and outfitters and guides. Outfitters have taken advantage of stewardship program to offset annual fees, hire guides in the off season, partner with other organizations like the Selway Frank Church Wilderness Foundation. Whereas the Frank Church Wilderness has over 2,400 trail miles, the four forests that manage this wilderness area are now maintaining over 1,000 miles of trail rather than one quarter of that amount. There are many examples of successes with trail maintenance throughout Idaho since the 2016 law!