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For the week of Mar. 22 through Mar. 28, 2000

Wildlife and politics won’t mix, Stennett says

Local legislator takes aim at governor’s proposed endangered species office


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, is calling a new bill dealing with endangered species "a bad move" for Idaho plants, fish and wildlife management.

The bill passed the Senate 29 to 4 on Thursday and will now go to the House. The House Resources and Environment Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill tomorrow.

The bill would will create a "governor’s office of species conservation." The office would be responsible for overseeing state management of endangered species, approval of endangered species recovery plans and coordination of all state departments on endangered species matters.

The buck will stop with the Idaho legislature, however.

The bill requires that plans for species recovery be subject to legislative approval, amendment or rejection.

Stennett, who sits on the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, said combining biology and politics is poor public policy.

He said his biggest concern is that the bill encourages Idaho to speak with one voice on endangered species issues.

"To me that’s just saying if you disagree with the political end, don’t say anything, because you don’t have a platform anymore," Stennett said in a Tuesday telephone interview.

"The long and short of this is that it takes biology and turns it into politics," he continued.

Rep. Cameron Wheeler, R-Ririe, one of the bill’s cosponsors, questioned Stennett’s argument.

"I don’t know of anything that’s more political than the Endangered Species Act (ESA)," Wheeler said. "This is an attempt to better manage the resources in our state. "It’s a common sense, baby step to deal with issues that are affecting our state all the time."

Stennett said he thinks the idea for the bill originated when the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said that, biologically, the best way to return salmon to Idaho is to breach four dams on the lower Snake River.

Politically, Idaho disagrees with dam breaching.

"The governor’s office wants the ability to muzzle any unpopular biological opinions that might backfire politically," Stennett said.

He said that if the governor’s ESA office were in place when Fish and Game endorsed dam breaching biologically, that opinion would have been "stuffed back down" the bureaucratic barrel.

The office will cost Idaho $500,000 annually, which will come from the state’s general fund.

"It’s ironic that we’re putting $500,000 toward this office, and it’s really creating another layer of bureaucracy," Stennett said. "People who are against more government are against this bill."

Wheeler, on the other hand, said half a million dollars is a small amount to pay when compared with what the office can accomplish.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she hasn’t seen the bill in its current form yet, but expects that she will vote against it.

Endangered species issues are coming into the limelight in Idaho, particularly as wolves continue to grow in number, and as the federal government looks at reintroduction of grizzly bears to their native range in the state’s center next summer.

 

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