An Idaho Fish and Game commissioner resigned under pressure Monday when the state’s governor raised strong concerns about an email he had sent that contained photos of animals he’d hunted and killed during a recent African safari, including a family of baboons.
One of the photos showed Blake Fischer in a crouched position, smiling and posing with the dead baboons. The photo, and others he sent, sparked controversy over the weekend after the Idaho Statesman first reported the existence of the emails and the photos.
“I have high expectations and standards for every appointee in state government,” said Gov. Butch Otter, who asked for Fischer’s resignation Monday. “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”
There had been pressure on the governor to seek Fischer’s resignation amid protests on social media from animal rights activists, some hunters and even celebrities.
“RED ALERT! ACTION! Commission member Blake Fischer killed an entire family of baboons & babies,” wrote a Twitter user identified as Warrior Activist.
Fischer was first appointed to the seven-member commission in 2014 and was reappointed this year, though he would have had to have been confirmed by the Idaho Senate when the Legislature convened in January. It is considered a voluntary position. Fischer has not responded to an email from the Los Angeles Times requesting an interview.
In his letter of resignation, dated Oct. 15, Fischer apologized for sending the photos and said he hoped his actions “would not harm the integrity and ethic” of the Fish and Game Department.
“I recently made some poor judgments that resulted in sharing photos of a hunt in which I did not display an appropriate level of sportsmanship and respect for the animals I harvested,” Fischer wrote. “While these actions were out of character for me, I fully accept responsibility and feel it is best for the citizens of Idaho and sportsmen and women that I resign my post.”
Jon Hanian, spokesman for the governor, said in an email to The Times on Monday that Otter had been aware of the controversy and that since the Statesman article was published, the governor’s office had received about 700 emails and 200 phone calls as of early Monday.
Fischer bragged in his email about the animals he killed during the safari in Namibia last month.
He said that he and his wife shot at least 14 animals, including a waterbuck, an impala, a leopard and a sable antelope.
“So I shot a whole family of baboons,” Fischer wrote below a photo of him smiling while posing with the four dead baboons. “I think she got the idea quick.”
He told the Statesman he was told which species he could hunt and that there were fees attached to some animals: “Baboons are free ... I get it — they’re a weird animal. It’s a primate, not a deer.”
In another caption, he wrote: “I shot a Leopard. Super cool, super lucky. The Leopard is one of the big 5, as in one of the 5 animals in Africa that will kill you before you can kill it. Crazy cool animal. They are normally super nocturnal, so this was really unique.”
Another photo showed him standing with his foot on the neck of a dead giraffe.
Fischer reportedly was caught off guard by the reaction and told the paper that one of his colleagues on the commission was upset by the pictures.
“I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral,” Fischer said. “... I look at the way Idaho’s Fish and Game statute says we’re supposed to manage all animals for Idaho, and any surplus of animals we have we manage through hunting, fishing and trapping. Africa does the same thing.”
But Steve Alder, executive director of the pro-hunting group Idaho for Wildlife, said he was glad — though not surprised — the governor had called for the resignation and suggested that this would be “a milestone” in how future commissioners might be selected.
“I’ve had issues with him trying to monetize hunting, trying to encourage Idaho to get into trophy hunting and putting our game to the highest bidder,” Alder said in an interview with The Times. “He’s been going down that road and I’ve been against that. I think this kind of unethical behavior will be looked at going forward.”
One former commissioner, Fred Trevey, emailed Fischer and asked him to resign “to shield the commission as an institution and hunting as a legitimate tool of wildlife management from the harm that is sure to come.”
“I have a difficult time understanding how a person privileged to be an Idaho Fish and Game commissioner can view such an action as sportsmanlike and an example to others,” Trevey wrote.
Photos of hunters posing with animals killed on trophy hunts have been hot-button issues for years, and social media has helped electrify the debate.
Mike Harris, director of the wildlife law program with the nonprofit Friends of Animals group, said the images of Fischer posing with the dead animals was “disturbing.” He also said that in his experience, posing with baboons that had been hunted and killed was unusual.
He said the group had been pressuring Otter to call for Fischer’s resignation.
“The photos speak volumes to what his own ethics are on this,” Harris said. “One thing we talk about when it comes to hunting and conservation is to be ethical. You don’t kill for fun. You can manage them from a population standpoint and hunting is one of the tools in the conservation basket — even if I think that tool is overused.”
Harris later clarified that he and his group opposed hunting as a conservation tool and that he meant to say, “One thing they talk about when it comes to hunting and conservation is to be ethical.”
Hunting, especially in states such as Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah, is largely viewed as both sport and a conservation tactic to keep species such as deer from overwhelming the ecosystem.
But U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke faced controversy this year when his agency attempted to allow grizzly bear hunts outside Yellowstone National Park — though the issue has been tied up in the courts.
President Trump — with the backing of his eldest sons, both hunting enthusiasts — reversed Obama-era rules banning game hunters from bringing back tusks, tails and other parts from elephants killed in Africa, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife has been allowing more imports of hunted lions from some African countries since Trump took office.
Friends of Wildlife reported that Namibia, where Fischer hunted, is one of the top 10 countries for imported trophy animals to the U.S., numbering 76,347 between 2005 and 2014.
According to the governor’s announcement in 2014, Fischer was appointed along with Lane Clezie to the Fish and Game Commission. Otter called both “passionate sportsmen who bring great understanding of the Fish and Game Commission’s responsibilities to hunters, anglers, fish and wildlife and everyone who loves the outdoors.”