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The Idaho Legislature is not always the friendliest place for conservation interests. We show up, state our position and more often than not watch the Legislature sail in the opposite direction. It doesn’t get me down, though, because I know that I’ve got thousands of Idahoans standing beside me in spirit.

Still, it makes it all the sweeter when we do see success in the Statehouse and this week, we saw some successes!

Dredge Mining Bill Sinks

About one hundred people turned out for the hearing for  HB 510 (check out the new video), which would have opened over 80,000 miles of Idaho’s streams to year-round, unregulated dredge mining. We’re pleased to report that the House Resources and Conservation Committee voted unanimously to “return the bill to the sponsor.” The hearing highlighted concerns from anglers, the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Office of the Attorney General, and others.

Based on numerous concerns raised by opponents, Rep. Marc Gibbs (R-Grace) offered a motion to return the bill to the sponsor, Rep. Paul Shepherd (R-Riggins). While  the bill could be resurrected this session, based on the issues that were voiced at the hearing, Rep. Shepherd has his work cut out for him. So, we’re considering the bill dead for the year.

Public Lands Nuisance Bill Floats (For Now)

Sen. Sherry Nuxoll’s (R-Cottonwood) SB 1338 would allow counties to declare public lands a public nuisance and was heard by the Senate Resources and Environment Committee on Wednesday, but they ran out of time and will continue the hearing next week. Owyhee County Commissioner Kelly Aberasturi said, “We need a stick to go after the federal government,” and Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik indicated he’ll use the law to sue the United States.

At the same time as the hearing, across town the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership shared success stories on how counties, timber, conservation, sportsmen and other interests are working together to restore public lands, create jobs, improve habitat, reduce fire risk and promote access. In ICL’s opinion, collaboration offers a far superior pathway, and one that doesn’t feed the fires of the effort to seize and sell off our public lands.

Oil and Gas Bill-Full Steam Ahead

Despite the impassioned testimony of numerous landowners from Payette County, some of whom were not even given the opportunity to testify, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee approved SB 1339. ICL opposed the bill primarily over the constricted timelines to  solicit and consider applications to drill and public input. Despite the objections, the bill passed the Committee 8-1 and passed the full Senate  on a 31-4 vote.

Hybrid Tax Cut Sails through Senate

Sen. Shawn Keough’s SB 1311 sailed through the Senate this week and will be heard in the House Transportation Committee in the coming days. It would eliminate a $75 tax on hybrid vehicles that is unfair and penalizes Idahoans who opt for energy-efficient vehicles.

Bonner County Easement Nearly Drowns IDFG Budget

A timber company wants to permanently protect public access to its property through a conservation easement. State agencies support the move and the easement is funded entirely through private and federal contributions. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Wrong!

During a meeting of the budget-setting Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, a war of words erupted and battle lines were drawn. Ultimately, despite attempts to delay consideration of the budget and strip the funding,  the request to appropriate $2 million in pass-through federal funds was approved. As Rep. Marc Gibbs (R-Grace) put it, “whatever gamesmanship we’re playing shouldn’t be taken out on the backs of sportsmen.” We agree!

Come to Public Lands Presentation on Monday

Join us on Monday, Feb 29, at 1:30 pm in the Lincoln Auditorium of the Statehouse, for a special presentation to the Joint House and Senate Resources Committees featuring George Wentz, a lawyer representing Utah in their proposed $14 million legal quest to seize control of public lands. Utah is looking for other states to share in the cost of this expedition.

We oppose efforts to seize and sell off our American heritage. As Rep.  Mike Simpson (R-ID) said this week “Let me tell you why people live in Idaho. They live in Idaho because they love  their  public lands.”   We couldn’t have said  it better ourselves.

Tie of the Week!

In honor of the 80,000+ miles of Idaho streams protected this week from the threat of year-round, unregulated dredge mining… I bring you the TOTW!

Until next week. Esto perpetua…