Wildlife and politics wont mix, Stennett says
Local legislator takes aim at governors proposed endangered species
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
The bill would will create a "governors 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 thats just saying if you disagree with the political
end, dont say anything, because you dont 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 bills cosponsors,
questioned Stennetts argument.
"I dont know of anything thats more political than the
Endangered Species Act (ESA)," Wheeler said. "This is an attempt to better
manage the resources in our state. "Its 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 governors office wants the ability to muzzle any unpopular
biological opinions that might backfire politically," Stennett said.
He said that if the governors 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
states general fund.
"Its ironic that were putting $500,000 toward this
office, and its 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 hasnt 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 states center next