Public Lands: Who Are They For? 

An exclusive hunting lease is debated for endowment lands of Idaho

click to enlarge “I don’t see a lot of sportsmen in Idaho as being the tweed-jacket-and-knicker-wearing kind of guys," said Michael Gibson, of Trout Unlimited.

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

“I don’t see a lot of sportsmen in Idaho as being the tweed-jacket-and-knicker-wearing kind of guys," said Michael Gibson, of Trout Unlimited.

When the guests of Blixt & Co. arrive at the luxurious lodge near the base of the Grand Tetons, they are greeted by a blaze burning in a tall, river-stone fireplace; a butler; a private chef; and a guest services specialist. They are then treated to a locally sourced spread of aged beef and pheasant, as well as fresh butters, yogurts and rustic breads and a wine cellar worthy of nobility. The next morning, no more than eight guests will set off through the Teton Valley, each armed with an elegantly crafted shotgun and a personal loader standing nearby.

Then, they will shoot.

According to its website, Blixt was founded in 2008 to bring “authentic Driven Shooting to America.” The European tradition involves a crew of attendants called “beaters,” who literally beat the brush to scare flocks of pheasant and partridge into the air where they are shot by a waiting line of armed and ready sportsmen.
“On a day of shooting,our 40-man strong team, will present birds strong on the wing and wild in spirit,” the website boasts.

After a few rounds of shooting, the guests take a break and have lunch under a safari tent—“placed in a glorious wooded grove”—then take a few more shots in the afternoon and retire to the lodge for tea and cocktails.

Before joining Blixt & Co. on a hunt, the company offers some friendly advice: “It is best to bring clothing that will keep you comfortable, warm and dry, with an eye to earthy colors and NO CAMMO or BLAZE [sic].”

The advice continues, warning guests that driven shooting is not to be confused with duck hunting, and it is expected that guests wear tweeds and wools, as well as breeks, long socks with flashes and a field coat.
“Additionally matching or coordinating trousers can be included,” the website suggests.

Blixt & Co. already owns a few thousand acres in eastern Idaho, but according to a series of emails between the company and the Idaho Department of Lands, it has its sights set on a 580-acre parcel of endowment land owned by the state.

The informal proposal states the company wants to lease the land for exclusive hunting rights—barring public access from August through December.

“Measured growth since we began the driven shooting program in 2009 has been consistent,” Blixt owner Lars Magnusson wrote in his initial proposal to IDL. “We continue to see demand as our clients and guests experience authentic driven shooting without the need to travel overseas. … Identifying new properties is critical to our ongoing success and the ability to invest our long-term vision. The properties will allow for an investment of time and money, and efforts as we expand our operations.”

Magnusson included the local and regional impacts of the business in 2013, such as more than 180 people employed and $113,177 paid in state taxes and Fish and Game fees.

Regardless, Blixt & Co.’s plan alarms Michael Gibson, Trout Unlimited Idaho field coordinator for the Sportsmen's Conservation Project.

“A lot of sportsmen in Idaho are not big landowners,” Gibson said. “Access to public lands is what we use to pursue our passion—hunting and fishing. To be shut out of that would be devastating.”

Meanwhile, the Idaho Department of Lands has a constitutional mandate to make money off endowment lands to help fund public schools. That means, by law, IDL has to consider the company’s proposal—regardless of pushback from Idaho sportsmen.

That would put the department in a sticky situation, according to IDL’s public information officer, Emily Callihan.

“In the past 20 years, there have only been four or five instances where different parties have approached the Department of Lands for exclusive hunting leases,” Callihan said. “Never have we ever approved that particular use.”

She said the initial idea of the exclusive hunting lease first came up in 2014. Since then, there have been several meetings and emails back and forth between the Blixt & Co. and IDL, but no official application has been received. IDL can’t approve or deny it until an actual application is submitted.

If the department denies the potential application, Callihan said the company would probably appeal to the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners, made up of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, State Controller Brandon Woolf, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.

Callihan said the lease could bring from $3,000 to $10,000 per year into the state’s public school system. Meanwhile, according to 2011 figures—the most recent, publicly available—the company charges $4,000 per day, per shooter to participate in its hunts.

Blixt & Co. did not respond to Boise Weekly’s request for comment.

“We’re exploring our options, reaching out to stakeholders including hunters and people who recreate on endowment lands. Most input we’ve received has not been supportive of the department approving proposals for exclusive hunting on public lands,” she said. “We’re trying to ensure long-term hunter access on public lands, while making sure to meet those obligations to make money for public schools.”

One possible solution, according to Callihan, is to find an option that would ensure public access on the land and make more money than Blixt & Co.’s proposal. She’s researching what other Western states do to make money off their endowment lands, and discussing options with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Gibson, from Trout Unlimited, wants to rally as much opposition to Blixt & Co.’s proposal as he can.

The land the company is targeting isn’t heavily used by hunters or hikers, but Gibson is more concerned about the precedent set by allowing exclusive access to public lands. He said he hopes never to see a “No Trespassing” sign on public lands for private hunting operations.

To put the brakes on Blixt, he helped craft a concurrent resolution that went before the Idaho House of Representatives Resource and Conservation Committee on March 15. The committee unanimously agreed to send it to the House floor.

If the resolution passes the House and the Senate, it will show the Idaho Legislature does not support the exclusive hunting lease—but it’s not an actual law, so it couldn’t bar a lease should IDL or the Land Board approve it.
“The people who are in support of this proposal are the people who stand to make money,” Gibson said. “I don’t see a lot of sportsmen in Idaho as being the tweed-jacket-and-knicker-wearing kind of guys. I don’t think the majority of sportsmen in Idaho want to see their public lands closed off for English driven shooting in tweed.”
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