The 2021 Idaho Legislature convened on Monday, Jan. 11 in the midst of the ongoing COVID pandemic and in the wake of dramatic and deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Despite concerns of a protest on the first day of the Idaho Legislature by Ammon Bundy’s organization People’s Rights, it was a relatively calm day at the Statehouse with only two arrests for warrants related to prior protests. Tensions are high at the Statehouse though, with increased security and preparations for more potential unrest in Washington, D.C. and at state capitols around the country this weekend and through Wednesday’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Nonetheless, the People’s Business will continue. The Governor gave his State of the State Address and committees are already introducing bills, constitutional amendments, and considering thousands of pages of rules. Most of the legislative proposals relate to limiting the Governor’s emergency powers that he’s used during the pandemic.
Governor Brad Little’s State of the State Address opened with a denunciation of the riot that invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In the Governor’s words: “The dark events at the U.S. Capitol last week disturbed us. The violent acts of some overshadowed the peaceful acts of many… The riots tarnished the shining values America stands for. This is not who we are.”
Like so many Idahoans, we were troubled by the events we saw at the Capitol, but at this point, it’s unclear how many Legislators agree with the Governor and the tension between different camps within the Majority Party in Idaho appears to be rising.
On conservation issues, the Governor’s speech made only fleeting references. The Governor called out “investments to promote healthy lands and reduce wildfire risk,” but took a swipe at “activists (who) are trying to rebrand wildfires as ‘climate fires’ – a divisive, defeatist term that does not accurately capture the West’s fire problem and dismisses the opportunity to do something about it.” We respectfully disagree.
I learned in Forestry School that three elements make up the “Fire Triangle:” Heat, Fuel, and Oxygen. Research has demonstrated that increasing temperatures and drought are contributing to challenging and historic fire seasons, and we need to invest in efforts to address the root causes of climate change, while also working together with the State, Federal government, and other partners to implement collaborative efforts to restore and protect our public lands. It’s not an either-or situation.
The Governor also touched on investments related to water and agriculture. “Water is truly the source of life,” he said, laying out $60 million in proposed investments in long-term water projects and safe water systems for our communities.” This includes $573,000 for a National Academy of Sciences study on Lake Coeur d’Alene. Approximately 80 million tons of toxic metals lie on the bottom of the lake as a result of historic mining activity in the Silver Valley. There’s growing concern that phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, caused by development around the lake, is agitating these toxic metals. We expect the study to affirm this process, and are hopeful that it will finally lead to constructive cleanup actions.
The first week is always slow, but ICL did have its first chance to testify on rules related to domestic elk farming in the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee. It wasn’t easy, because neither the House nor the Senate has laid out rules for remote testimony, and it was a last-minute scramble to even determine how to plug in. We’re working hard to figure out remote testimony and will provide insight at a Legislative 101 Webinar we’re hosting on Thursday, Jan. 21. Register today!
ICL and others have long been concerned with the lack of adequate testing for game farms, which pose significant threats to our wild deer and elk populations from diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease. Idaho has more game farms than any other state in the region, which threatens a multi-billion dollar hunting economy. We’re concerned that the State only requires testing of 10% of slaughtered elk and only requires inspections once every five years.
On Tuesday, Jan. 18th, the same Senate Agriculture Committee will consider pesticide rules that were a big topic last session. On Wednesday, Jan 19th, the House Agriculture Committee will consider the same rules. We’ll be there again, along with public health and farmworker advocates, and hope to be able to share our concerns with the new rules developed by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
Return of the TOTW
Finally, I’m happy to bring you the Tie of the Week feature after a 10-month hiatus. Even working remotely, I’ll be suiting up each day, and I’ll spotlight one of my ties that ties into what’s happening in the legislature. This week’s tie represents the continued commitment from ICL to represent conservation in the statehouse, as we’ve done since our founding in 1973. I remain humbled and honored to carry on this tradition and look forward to engaging our members and supporters on Green Issues that arise during what is sure to be a unique and challenging session.