The Idaho Legislature continued to introduce new bills, consider budget requests, and churn through its review of administrative rules last week, but one of the most anticipated meetings was canceled on Friday. The budget-setting committee was supposed to consider a first batch of the Governor’s new funding proposals for state agencies. Instead, committee co-chairs Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls) and Sen. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) shelved the meeting, and they all went home early for the weekend. I can’t remember a time that the Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee canceled a meeting. I explain more about the dustup below.

On the policy side two wildlife bills appear to be moving forward, one on the House side, and the other in the Senate. The first deals with whether the public can access detailed location data for bighorn sheep and other prized game species. The Senate proposal addresses penalties for poachers. They are both common sense bills, and both advanced out of committee unanimously.

Two other bills were printed that deal with State Endowment Lands. One simply requires restoration of state lands that are leased, while the other appears to undermine the constitutionally-required public competition requirements for some grazing leases. 

On Monday, we learned more about a bill on navigational encroachments. ICL was curious whether it might impact a proposal to develop a large marina at the mouth of Trestle Creek along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille? After attending the hearing, we learned that it had more to do with minor modifications of docks.

Finally, we hope you’ll register for ICL’s Legislative Update Webinar on Wednesday, February 7 at 12:30 (MST). Learn about some of the issues that we’re working on this year, and how you can get involved!

Keep reading below to get your fix on what’s happening in the #IdLeg.

JFAC changes still creating conflict

The Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee (JFAC) implemented some significant changes this year. Instead of considering agency budgets in full, they’re advancing “maintenance budgets” first, and then will need to vote to reopen the budgets and consider any additional or new funding proposed by the Governor. 

On Friday, JFAC was scheduled to reopen their first budgets for consideration of those new items, including two that ICL is watching: the State Dept. of Agriculture and the Office of Energy and Mineral Resources. As I reported last week, the new procedures are raising concerns that programs will be cut in the weeks and months to come, and those questions apparently led JFAC Co-Chairs Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls) and Sen. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) to abruptly cancel the meeting.

Next week, we expect JFAC to consider revised committee rules that will govern how this plays out. Based on what we’re hearing in the halls, it’s causing some serious turbulence in the closed-door caucus rooms. Passing the budget is the #1 job of the legislature, so the longer this takes to get sorted out, the longer the session will last. And with legislators itching to get home to campaign in their primaries, that’s making everyone a little edgy.

Bighorn sheep.

State lands and wildlife bills on the docket

As I noted above, we saw two wildlife bills advance out of committee. A hearing is scheduled today in the House Natural Resources Committee on a bill from James Petzke’s (R-Meridian) bill that limits public record requests related to wildlife. In general, ICL is wary of expanding exceptions to public records laws, but in this case it makes sense

Some unscrupulous hunters have been requesting detailed location data from state fish and wildlife managers in order to locate prized big game species like bighorn sheep. It flies in the face of fair-chase hunting ethics and warrants an exception to the law that guarantees government transparency. The bill still allows sharing information with scientific researchers and for other valid purposes. It’s on the docket today in committee, and we’re hopeful it will advance to the House floor with a “Do Pass” recommendation.

The other bill from the same House committee was introduced last week by Rep. Brit Raybould (R-Rexburg) and would require specific terms be added to any state land leases, to ensure reclamation is completed when the lease expires. Mining leases already require reclamation, and this bill appears to make a sensible change to ensure that all state lands are restored at the conclusion of any private leasing operation. A hearing on the bill is expected soon.

Over in the Senate, a bill from Sen. Dan Foreman (R-Viola) would prohibit anyone found guilty of violating wildlife laws from applying for a hunting, fishing, or trapping license until their fines have been paid. There were a few questions raised in the Senate Resources & Environment Committee about whether the bill was properly drafted and Sen. Foreman indicated that he has another related bill in the works. As a result, the committee sent the bill to the Senate for possible amendment. It’s called the “Amending Order” and it’s basically a parking lot for bills that might need some tweaking. Sometimes bills go there to die, but in this case we’re hoping that it’s still got a pulse.

The final resource-related bill considered last week has a longer backstory. It was introduced by Sen. Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) and relates to a land exchange in Owyhee County that was finalized in 2021. Because of the difference between federal and state grazing leases, the shift in ownership will have implications for a handful of ranchers in Southwest Idaho. The problem is, this bill appears to be a second bite at the apple, because ranchers, the state, the county, and others already had ample opportunity to remove their leased-land from the exchange. Check out the ICL bill tracker to learn more about the backstory associated with this bill.

Finally, we attended the Senate Resources committee on Monday when they considered a bill that deals with “Navigational Encroachments.” Things like docks and other construction projects on the state’s navigable waters ensure that those waters remain open and accessible. We were curious if the bill would impact the state’s consideration of a large marina and development on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, which ICL and hundreds of local residents have raised serious concerns over. Learn more about the issue and take action today to protect the habitat and beauty of Trestle Creek! After attending the hearing, we learned that it had to do with “modifications” of dock permits, and doesn’t impact the application for Trestle Creek.  

The waters of Trestle Creek provide vital habitat for threatened bull trout and other aquatic species, offer amazing recreation opportunities, and is one of the few places where families can observe spawning bull trout and kokanee.

In other news

In the Senate State Affairs Committee, Sen. Mark Harris (R-Soda Springs) introduced a constitutional amendment that would limit any special session called by the legislature to 20 days. It’s the same time limit allowed for a special session initiated by the Governor, and intends to limit the potential for the Idaho Legislature to be a full-time, year-round affair. If it passes both the House and Senate with ⅔ support, it would be placed on the November ballot and would require a simple majority to pass.

On a separate note, the US Fish and Wildlife Service added wolverines to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act at the end of 2023. It was the result of a nearly 30-year long effort that ICL was involved in. According to population estimates, as few as 250-300 wolverines remain in the lower 48, with only 35 wolverines left in Idaho. Wolverines depend upon deep snowpacks that persist into late spring, and that habitat is shrinking as the climate warms. On Friday, Montana sent a notice of its intent to sue the USFWS over the listing decision, and we’ll see whether Idaho will join the fray as well?

Tie of the week!

Before ICL came on the scene in 1973, hunting and angling interests were some of the first advocates for conservation laws in Idaho. The establishment of the Idaho Primitive Area was established by early sporting interests, with Harry Shellworth at the helm in 1931, and the  Idaho Fish & Game Commission in 1938 was led by the Idaho Wildlife Federation to ensure a lasting public wildlife legacy in Idaho. Later efforts, spearheaded by Ted Trueblood (alongside ICL and many others) in 1980, led to designation of the Central Idaho Wilderness, now known as the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness.

That’s why it was a pleasure to gather with our friends at the Idaho Sporting and Wildlife Partnership for their legislative reception last week. To our friends at the Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and others who share a love and appreciation for Idaho’s wildlife, this tie’s for you!


Until next week…Esto Perpetua,