Facing sharp criticism for sharing photographs of himself and his wife posing with animals they killed on a recent hunting trip to Africa — including one showing a family of dead baboons — an Idaho Fish and Game commissioner resigned on Monday.
Blake Fischer tendered his resignation to staff members of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter at about 3:30 p.m., apologizing for deciding to share photos that do not show “an appropriate level of sportsmanship and respect for the animals I harvested.”
“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,” Fischer wrote in an email addressed to Otter. “I apologize to the hunters and anglers of Idaho who I was appointed to represent and I hope that my actions will not harm the integrity and ethic of the Idaho Fish and Game department moving forward.”
Fischer, who Otter had reappointed to a four-year term in July, did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment on Monday.
In a statement released on Monday, Otter announced that he asked for and received Fischer’s resignation.
“I have high expectations and standards for every appointee in state government,” Otter said. “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment."
“Commissioner Fischer did not. Accordingly, I have accepted his resignation from the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.”
Initially reported by the Idaho Statesman, the controversy around Fischer began with an email about a recent hunt in Namibia, Africa that he sent on Sept. 17 to more than 100 people.
Most of the public outcry surrounding Fischer’s recent hunt has been centered on the photo of baboons, which shows Fischer smiling while cradling four baboon bodies — one of which appears to be a juvenile covered in blood.
The email included 12 photographs in total, depicting various animals the pair had hunted, which included a leopard, giraffe, impala and waterbuck. Included with the images were descriptions of each kill, according to a report in the Washington Post.
In the few days since the incident was initially reported, Fischer’s story has received extensive national and international media coverage. Even avid hunters lambasted Fischer for the content in the email and his disregard for hunting etiquette.
Several former Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners supported calls for Fischer’s resignation. Keith Carlson, a Fish and Game commissioner for 12 years who represented the Clearwater Region from 1987 to 1999, provided the Journal on Monday a copy of an email he sent to Fischer on Sept. 30 condemning him for the photo.
“As an Idaho Fish and Game commissioner you have an obligation to represent the highest standards of ethical sportsmanship and respect for the animals we hunt,” Carlson wrote. “That photo, which is now public, falls woefully short of that obligation. To uphold the integrity and the high public regard for the commission, I ask that you apologize publicly and submit your resignation from the commission.”
When confronted with Fischer’s resignation on Monday, Carlson told the Journal, “Oh, excellent. I don’t know the gentleman, but his role as a commissioner is incompatible with what he did.”
An active hunter himself, Carlson has no problem with going on a trophy hunt, but believes Fischer’s apparent lack of sensitivity is problematic. The photo of the baboons was most off-putting to him. He said its this type of photo that turns people with neutral feelings for hunting into anti-hunters.
“The whole idea of killing an entire family, obviously not for food, is hard to relate,” Carlson said. “What bothers me most about this was his failure to understand the severity of the situation. You shouldn’t have this picture, you shouldn’t have that grin on your face, and you shouldn’t show a baby baboon with an obvious arrow hole in the middle of it.”
Randy Budge, another former Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner who represented the Southeast Region, told the Journal on Monday that he does not condone or support what Fischer did. But Budge, also an avid outdoorsman, did not sign a letter supporting Fischer’s resignation because nothing Fischer did was illegal.
“Legally harvesting animals doesn’t arise to something that is illegal like poaching or sexual harassment,” said Budge, who is also a Pocatello attorney. “I thought it was an excessive display and it was offensive to me, too, but I did not have sufficient facts to say that he should resign.”
Not everyone who saw the pictures or email thread were as quick to denounce Fischer, however.
Doug Sayer, an active hunter and conservationist in Southeast Idaho told the Journal before Fischer announced his resignation that he was disappointed a letter Fischer sent in private has entered the public sphere.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” Sayer said about Fischer’s predicament prior to his resignation. “I don’t think Blake (Fischer) has done anything wrong. I appreciate the sacrifices he has made, he is a good man and does a great job. It’s unfortunate that he is in the position he is in.”
Though many have camped on both sides of support and displeasure over Fischer’s actions, for Lindsay Christensen, a native of Weston, Idaho who was named the 2017 Extreme Huntress, it’s the photo that is more irksome than the hunt itself. She said in an email to the Journal on Monday that such hunts are necessary for the health of an animal habitat and ecosystem.
“There are many reasons people hunt, and population control is one of them,” Christensen wrote. “The natural habitat of most animal species is continually shrinking. Because of this, animals cannot thrive without being managed. Death by a hunter is really one of the most ethical ways an animal can die in comparison to other alternatives such as starvation, disease, old age or being eaten alive by a predator.”
She echoed Carlson’s sentiments about the perception that the photos can have on people, particularly non-hunters.
“Regardless of the reason, it is the photo that has everyone in an outrage,” Christensen said. “The worst thing you can do as a hunter is turn a non-hunter into an anti-hunter, and I think the photo of the baboon family did just that.”
Jon Hanian, a spokesman for the governor’s office, told the Journal that Fischer and Otter did not speak directly regarding Fischer’s resignation, adding that the governor returned to the Statehouse on Monday from an out-of-state speaking engagement specifically to handle the situation.
Hanian did not provide a timeline for when Fischer’s replacement on the commission would be selected but said the appointment could stretch beyond Otter’s term, which ends in January after he opted to not seek re-election. Idaho residents interested in applying for the commissioner position are encouraged to visit the office of the governor’s website, Hanian said.
“We will begin looking for a replacement immediately,” Hanian said. “Whoever is chosen would need to be confirmed by the Senate, and given that we are entering a transition period, I don’t know how soon that would be or whether it would be something that the next governor would deal with.”
And while the governor’s office has initiated a process of moving on from Fischer, it might not be so easy for him to move on.
Pocatello huntress Sabrina Corgatelli — who in 2015 faced massive backlash herself for sharing a photo showing her standing with a dead giraffe wrapped around her — says Fischer will have a hard time ever escaping this incident.
Corgatelli told the Journal on Monday that she stands behind Fischer. She also criticized the Fish and Game department and other current commissioners for not supporting Fischer throughout this ordeal.
“I still, everyday, for three years, get hate,” Corgatelli said. “There hasn’t been a day that I go without it. What saddens me is this affects his life. I almost lost my job. When you go after someone’s livelihood just because you hunt an animal, that’s not fair. When you affect someone’s livelihood I don’t agree with that.”
Corgatelli continued, “I was hoping that (Fischer) would stand his ground because he has done nothing wrong.”
Her advice to future extreme hunters and huntresses: “You have to have thick skin.”