Idaho salamander bill squashed over federal overreach fears

AP News
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Posted: Jan 19, 2015 6:35 PM
Idaho salamander bill squashed over federal overreach fears

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers worried that special recognition of the Idaho giant salamander could lead to federal protections have rejected a grade school student's request that it be named the state amphibian.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-6 on Monday against 14-year-old Ilah Hickman's plan. It was her fifth attempt in as many years to persuade lawmakers that students made a good choice for state amphibian.

"I was kind of disappointed, but either way I'm going to come back next year and push it again," Hickman told The Spokesman-Review (http://bit.ly/1ACuZkO ). "I'm going to keep pushing, until it either passes or I can't get hearings anymore."

An Idaho attorney general's opinion advised lawmakers that approving the salamander as a state symbol wouldn't do anything in the way of encouraging federal protections. But lawmakers remained wary.

"My whole concern is potential federal overreach," said Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls. "In north Idaho we have the water litigation going. I just am in fear that something could be impacted if it became an endangered species."

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, co-sponsored Hickman's bill and pointed out that designating a state symbol had nothing to do with endangered species.

"We addressed that," Ward-Engelking said. "We got an opinion from the attorney general - it was very clear. I spoke with him personally. He said no way, no how was a state symbol going to impact that whatsoever."

Frank Lundberg, a herpetologist, testified in support of the bill and was disappointed after it failed.

"It is a mistake to ever overestimate the ignorance of the Idaho Legislature," he said.

Idaho fourth grade classes study state symbols as part of Idaho history, and a fourth-grade teacher backed the bill as well.

But Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, voted against the salamander after recalling being repulsed by them as a young boy.

"They were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy," he said. "And I've not gotten over that. So to elevate them to the status of being the state amphibian, I'm not there yet."

The Idaho giant salamander can grow to more than a foot long. Hickman told lawmakers that the salamander makes its home almost exclusively in Idaho, and noted it has skin markings that resemble a topographical map of Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains.

Four Democrats and two Republicans voted in favor, but 10 lawmakers, all Republicans, voted against the bill.

"It can become protected," said Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene. "There's actually no legal impediment."

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com