On Nov. 30, 2010, recent Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell shot a cow elk in the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area north of Idaho Falls. While hauling the elk out, Rammell crossed paths with an Idaho Fish and Game agent who asked to see his license. Rammell produced a tag that had expired in October for the Middle Fork zone (an area a couple hundred miles from Tex Creek). Upon seeing that Rammell did not have the proper licensing, the agent told him that he would have to confiscate the elk.
At this point, what could have remained a relatively minor incident became decidedly more interesting.
In a letter he wrote in his defense for the Idaho Statesman last month, Rammell admits he responded to the agent’s request to confiscate the illegally harvested elk by saying, “You better get your gun out, because you’re going to have to shoot me if you want this elk.”
Rammell refused to turn over the elk and drove off with the carcass. The agent then notified Idaho State Police, the local sheriff’s office in Idaho Falls and Idaho Fish & Game. Officers from all three agencies met Rammell at his house in Idaho Falls, where he went inside and refused to come out or to accept a citation. Eventually, agents were able to confiscate the elk and have since filed poaching charges against Rammell.
In logic akin to being caught in the act of shoplifting a television and then arguing that the shoplifter should be allowed to keep the TV until found guilty by a jury, Rammell has maintained that IDF&G had no right to confiscate the elk, since he has not yet been proven guilty (though he admits to having the elk in his possession and to not being properly licensed).
To date, Rammell has taken no personal responsibility for the incident, and he entered a not guilty plea to the charges at the end of December. He places the blame instead on the employee at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Idaho Falls who sold him the tag. Rammell claims the employee told him he was purchasing an elk tag that would allow him to hunt in any zone in the state that he wished. It is worth noting that no such elk tag exists – when hunters purchase elk tags in the state of Idaho, they must specify the zone they plan to hunt in, and are limited to that zone. This is not a recent change in the regulations, and the employee who sold Rammell the tag has been a licensing agent at the store for 10 years.
Rammell also spreads the blame for this incident to IDF&G itself, complaining that the hunting regulations are “confusing.” To be fair, the regulations do require a minimal amount of homework. Yet somehow, thousands of hunters in the state of Idaho every year seem to be able to figure it out and hunt legally. It’s hard to believe that the regulations are so perplexing as to lead one to think that a tag that expired last October, for a zone several hundred miles away, would still be valid at the end of November in a zone that is practically in Rammell’s long-time backyard.
Even if a mistake had been made by the employee at Sportsman’s, it is ultimately, and clearly, the hunter’s responsibility – and no one else’s – to make sure licensing and tags are correct prior to undertaking a hunt.
In speaking of Rammell’s backyard, it is worth noting that he maintains a sizable elk farm that has also been a source of major friction between Rammell and the state in the past.
In 2006, when more than 100 domesticated elk escaped from Rammell’s farm north of Idaho Falls, Idaho’s then-Governor Jim Risch made the decision to have IDF&G organize an “emergency hunt” to have the escaped elk put down, citing concerns of possible disease spreading to nearby wild populations that range into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Rammell vehemently denied his elk carried disease and attempted to sue the state for $1.3 million dollars in losses. An Idaho district judge dismissed Rammell’s case a few weeks ago.
Given this history, it probably isn’t surprising that Rammell has vowed, if elected governor, to overhaul IDF&G and has called for the agency’s complete dissolution. He advocates instead a vague plan that would turn game management “back to local control by fishermen and hunters.” In the same piece he wrote for the Idaho Statesman last December and in a letter he sent out to his supporters, he referred to IDF&G as “Nazis.”
Clearly not afraid of controversy, Rammell has also gained notoriety in the past for urging Idaho residents to shoot all wolves, regardless of whether there is a legal season on them or not. At a Republican rally in Boise in 2009, he joked publicly with a supporter about buying “Obama tags” for hunting season.
It would be easy to write Rammell off as yet another fringe product of the fertile, über right-wing soil of Idaho’s rural environs. Yet in his recent bid for governor, Rammell garnered more than 42,000 votes, a notable percentage by Idaho voting turnout standards. The most significant hurdle Rammell likely faces in getting elected (other than his own extreme words and actions) is that even Idaho’s famously hardcore conservative establishment considers him to be too far out on the right end on the political spectrum.
Political aspirations aside however, Rammell’s case is worth following, as it is certainly one of the most press-worthy poaching cases to come to light in the area in recent memory.
As a public figure, Rammell’s behavior is disturbing to say the least. As a recent candidate for the state’s highest office, it is unconscionable. The question has to be asked – had Rammell just been any other local resident, would he have been arrested on the spot for his actions, particularly given his challenge to the IDF&G agent to “get his gun out,” followed by leaving the scene with evidence? Such an arrest certainly seemed to have justifiable cause.
Rammell continues to take no responsibility for the incident, in apparent contradiction to the values of “honor,” “integrity” and “personal responsibility” he proclaims on his campaign website as fundamental to his beliefs. As all too often seems to be the case with politicians like Rammell, such values are well and good on the campaign trail, but seem to vanish when an incident arises that applies to the politician in question.
When this happens, it’s time to spread the blame to other parties and use it an opportunity to throw truly tasteless, juvenile invective at a state agency for merely performing one of its primary duties – enforcing what most would agree are reasonable and necessary laws against those who harvest wildlife illegally.
To be a loud advocate for the extermination of all wolves based on the argument they are decimating wild game, and then to be caught circumventing game management laws designed to keep game herds sustainable, is the height of irony. To take no personal responsibility when caught doing so only encourages others to do the same.
Bruce Smithhammer is a freelance writer and editor, a columnist for the Teton Valley News and a contributing editor for The Drake magazine. He also writes for the blog Mouthful of Feathers.