As we advance toward the supposed bill introduction deadline on February 13, the legislature is pickin’ up speed. 

Last week we saw three separate bills introduced attempting to provide property tax relief, two constitutional amendments advanced, new efforts to restrict absentee voting, a proposal for education spending accounts, and yet another attempt to expand Idaho’s borders into Eastern Oregon.

The big news was in Senate State Affairs, when the committee advanced a constitutional amendment seeking to effectively kill citizens initiatives and referendums. (Read more below and please, please, PLEASE Take Action today!). 


Over in the House, Majority Leader Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett) raised eyebrows when she introduced a bill seeking to politicize the independent non-partisan state auditing agency, the Office of Performance Evaluations. It’s an important agency that plays a critical role, and as the Idaho Statesman Sunday editorial argued, it’s inappropriate to inject partisanship into this otherwise non-partisan office.

In addition, budgets were presented from the Idaho Departments of Fish & Game, Parks and & Recreation, Agriculture, Public Utilities Commission, and the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.

Speaking of picking up speed, a bill that appears to weaken requirements for slow-moving traffic to pull over flew through the Senate this week on a 35-0 vote. So while the legislature is picking up speed, you might not be.

Red light, yellow light, green light, go! 

Idahoans come together to speak up for public lands at a rally in 2017.

Senate Committee advances attack on citizen initiatives

On Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs voted to approve a constitutional amendment that would effectively end the ability to advance initiatives and referendums. Introduced by Sen. Doug Okuniewicz (R-Hayden), Senate Joint Resolution 101 would amend the Idaho Constitution to require that 6% of voters in every legislative district sign a petition for an initiative or referendum. That would be like requiring every member of the legislature to co-sponsor a bill before it could be heard. It’s a ginormous hurdle and one that would effectively kill the initiative process. 

And it’s already not easy to pass an initiative under current rules, which require 6% of voters in 18 of 35 districts. 

In 2019, legislators approved a similar change in statute that was rejected by the Idaho Supreme Court when they found it violated the Idaho Constitution. Now, the legislature is trying to change the Idaho Constitution and forever limit the ability for citizen-driven legislation.

During the hearing, sponsor Sen. Okuniewicz said he was “uncertain why [the initiative process] is in the Constitution?” It’s written right there in Article I, Section 2, “All political power is inherent in the people.” Until they seize that power of course…

A constitutional amendment requires ⅔ approval from the House and Senate, and then 50% support from voters at the next general election. So the time is now to contact your Senators and ask them to oppose SJR 101

Silencing howls in the marble halls

The legislature took up the topic of wolves this week during the budget committee’s consideration of the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board. The board is made up of representatives from the Idaho Departments of Fish & Game (IDFG) and Agriculture, along with the ranching industry. The board reported total expenditures of $767,296 to kill 174 wolves last year. That works out to $4,410 per wolf. Funds come from IDFG, a portion of hunting tag sales, contributions from Idaho taxpayers, and contributions from the livestock industry.

The board covers the cost for federal sharpshooters to remove entire packs from helicopters, and also pays trappers a bounty for wolves. All the while, wolf attacks on livestock represent a tiny fraction of livestock deaths. In 2019, wolves killed an estimated 480 sheep in Idaho, whereas non-predator causes (disease, weather, etc.) added up to more than 10,000 deaths. Similarly, wolves were responsible for the loss of less than .01% of all unwanted cattle deaths in 2015 (the most recent year USDA data is available).

The legislature also heard from outgoing IDFG director who announced a new wolf management plan is available for review. According to the plan, Idaho will attempt to reduce wolf populations 60%, from  ~1,200 wolves down to ~500 wolves. Since wolf hunting and trapping has remained stable even with liberalized hunting rules, bag limits, and seasons (established by the legislature in 2021), it doesn’t appear there are too many options to achieve that goal, short of government trappers and poisoned bait.  

IDL closes deal on North Idaho lands

The Idaho Land Board has sold off cabin sites along Payette and Priest Lakes over the past decade, and the proceeds of those sales are placed in a Land Bank Fund that is designed to acquire other lands. If they don’t acquire lands over a 5 year period, the funds are automatically transferred to the stock market. 

Have you ever tried to camp, hike, and fish on Wall Street? I don’t recommend it.

Priest Lake in North Idaho.

That’s why ICL was pleased to learn that the state closed the books on a $50 million deal to acquire 18,000 acres of land in North Idaho. This adds acres to the Public Land Endowment for the benefit of public schools and universities, and will help to prevent loss of open space that could have otherwise been developed.

ICL strongly supports the purchase of these lands. After selling off 1 million acres of state lands that were granted from the federal government at statehood, the least we can do is claw some of them back. 

Of Governors and Grizzly bears 

Last Thursday Gov. Brad Little sent a letter to Sec. of the Interior Deb Haaland and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams. He was frustrated it was taking so long to hear back after petitioning for the removal of grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List in March 2022. One day later, the USFWS issued a notice in the federal register, denying Idaho’s petition. And people complain about federal inaction…

ICL and others remain concerned about the management of grizzly bears in Idaho. For a species that used to range across the state, and the West, there are only an estimated 50 bears in the Selkirk/Cabinets of North Idaho, and a handful in Southeast Idaho’s corner of Yellowstone. The USFWS will move forward with Wyoming and Montana’s petitions to consider delisting in the ecosystems surrounding Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, but for now, it appears that Grizzlies will remain protected in Idaho.

What last week’s news really says is it appears that Idaho isn’t talking to the feds. If they had been, they would’ve known that a federal response was coming and could have held off on the letter. Whatever solution is reached on grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies, we’ll be better off if we can talk to one another instead of remaining silent.

In other news…and what’s on deck?

Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) is making another run at expanding Idaho’s borders into Oregon. The idea has been around for several years, and would ultimately take an act of Congress. Apparently we’re going to spend another year spinning our wheels on this far-fetched idea. This week, we expect to see proposals seeking to limit Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing practices, but we’ll see whether the recent rejection of ESG “model legislation” from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) plays any role is slowing down the proposals, which are also being advanced in several other states

To stay up to date on all the environmental issues in the statehouse, check out the ICL Bill Tracker!

Tie of the Week: People Power!

The TOTW this week recognizes that all political power is inherent in the people. Citizens grant that power to the Legislature, and legislators should not be seeking to limit the power of the initiative. In case you didn’t hear me before, please take a moment to contact your senator and ask them to vote no!



Until next week…Esto Perpetua,


It’s Captain Wilderness, of course!