Three top candidates trying to be elected Idaho's governor in 2018 have widely different backgrounds but share similar views on managing the state's wildlife conservation and access to public lands.
The Idaho Statesman reports Republican gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Boise developer Tommy Ahlquist joined Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff on Saturday to express their views about wildlife policy. The forum was sponsored by the Idaho Wildlife Federation and hunting and fishing groups, with roughly 100 people in attendance.
The candidates spoke 30 minutes each and did not interact with one another. The top statewide seat is open after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announced he would not seek a fourth term.
The three candidates said they hold hunting and fishing licenses and said they oppose the state taking complete ownership of Idaho's federal lands because doing so would cost the state too much money. However, the three argued the state should have a larger role in how that federal land is managed.
"Thirty-three million acres is a lot of land," said Balukoff, a Boise businessman and longtime trustee on the Boise school board. "There is enough space to meet needs."
The candidates also agreed that the federal government plan in place to improve salmon and steelhead recovery is not working.
"Our rural communities need this industry," said Ahlquist, who is running for political office for the first time. "We need to figure this out. ... We need to protect Idaho's interests, Idaho industries, Idaho fish."
The candidates differed somewhat on sage grouse management in Idaho. Balukoff criticized the state's actions to fight former President Barack Obama's grouse management in federal court. Little said taking legal action is sometimes required when the federal government does not fulfill its responsibilities. Meanwhile, Ahqluist said it was wise not to file a lawsuit if local officials working with the federal government are satisfied with the process.
"If they are not, fight," he said.
Idaho was one of many western states to sue the federal government in 2015 after federal officials opted not to list sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act but announced federal land-use restrictions.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed the Otter administration's lawsuit in January. He has since appealed that decision, arguing that the federal government's plan will have lasting damage on public and private lands.
Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is also running for governor in 2018, did not to attend.