The second regular session of the Sixty-third Idaho Legislature called Sine Die in March after seventy-five legislative days. As usual, attacks on clean water, public lands and the state’s fish and game agency were not in short supply. Trout Unlimited and its conservation partners were kept busy from day one heading off a slew of bills attempting to expand small-scale suction dredge mining in the state, transfer federal land ownership to the state and politicize fish and game management.
Straight out of the gate, S1236 was introduced in Senate Resource and Environment by Senator Steve Bair (R-Blackfoot). This bill would have mandated that the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Commission issue twelve Governor’s tags for trophy game species, removing the Commission’s discretion of using science and public input to make game management decisions. A fundamental shift towards politicizing fish and game management in Idaho, this bill would run contrary to why the Commission was established over 75 years ago. TU and a myriad of other sportsmen groups, with help from the Commission itself, sent a strong message to legislators that the bill was unacceptable. It never got a hearing in committee.
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Next up, HB 510 was introduced in House Resource and Conservation by Representative Paul Shepherd (R-Riggins). HB 510 would have drastically increased the scope and impact of what the bill defined as “small-scale” suction dredge mining while simultaneously deregulating the practice from any state oversight. Increasing equipment size and eliminating horsepower restrictions, the bill would have allowed dredgers to move up to five cubic yards of sediment per hour. HB 510’s Achilles heel was that the new statute attempted to remove small-scale dredging from the EPA’s list of point source pollutants. After testimony from TU leaders, Idaho Department of Water Resources, the State Attorney General and others, the committee unanimously voted to return the bill to its sponsor.