The 2023 session of the Idaho Legislature is in the books, with formal adjournment taking place towards the end of March. As always, Idaho BHA paid close attention to legislation with the potential to impact our public lands, waters, and wildlife, making our voices heard and commenting on a variety of issues.
We helped to kick things off this session by joining with our conservation partners for Camo at the Capitol, meeting with the new Chairs of the House Resources and Conservation Committee and the Senate Resources and Environment Committee, as well as a significant number of new and returning legislators. There was a significant amount of turnover in both the House and Senate from last session, and it’s always a good idea to start building relationships early so that as many legislators as possible know who we are and what our membership cares most about.
In terms of legislation, a number of bills came through that we supported, as well as some that we were against. On balance the outcome was generally positive from a conservation perspective though there is plenty of work to do coming out of the session. Here are a few highlights of where we paid particularly close attention.
Bills that became law:
House Bill 144. This one gives Fish and Game the authority to issue lifetime trapping licenses. Lifetime licenses already exist in the Gem State for hunting and fishing, and it seemed like a no brainer to extend the same opportunity to Idaho trappers. We were proud to support this bill, and look forward to seeing lifetime trapping certificates framed on many a wall in the years to come.
Senate Bill 1143. This bill was a bit more controversial and permits the Fish and Game Commission to institute seasons for shed antler hunting in the state. Given the rise in popularity of this activity and the increased pressures on wintering wildlife through recreation in general, conferring this authority to the Commission was a prudent step and we supported it accordingly. While the Commission has the authority to implement these seasons as they see fit, our understanding is that they will typically be tailored to individual regions and times – such as particularly hard winters in certain units – rather than general statewide seasons.
Senate Bill 1021. The bill was specific to Priest Lake in Northern Idaho, and is designed to prohibit modifications or additions to outlet control structures on Priest Lake without the direct authorization of the legislature and the governor. While our chapter understands and appreciates the importance of legislative oversight, our comments were submitted in opposition to this bill due to our belief that there is an existing oversight process already in place and that this legislation may create an undue burden on the effort to find practical conservation solutions for the Priest River fishery. Since early last year, Idaho BHA has been working with a coalition of stakeholders to help determine a solution for the 45-mile Priest River system that has been plagued by warm water temperatures – resulting in serious detrimental impacts to the quality of the fishery. That effort is still in its early stages, with no clear solution in place. Some proposed options, such as the cold-water siphon that was discussed early in the process, have met with strong opposition from the local community around Priest Lake. The effort to find conservation solutions for Priest River will continue, and will take broad engagement with a range of stakeholders – including collaborating thoughtfully with local landowners – to find a sustainable solution.
There were a range of other bills that came through as well, such as Senate Bill 1049 which changes enforcement mechanisms for violating closures on Endowment lands with the goal of increasing the frequency with which these laws are enforced in practice.
What didn’t make it:
House Bill 43 was the latest iteration of a bill that would amend statute to make any willful acts of incorrect posting or obstructing public lands, navigable streams, or public easements illegal. This effort has been driven by conservation partners such as our friends at the Idaho Wildlife Federation, who have been great advocates for the importance of legislation along these lines. We look forward to helping push this one in future sessions, and we’ll be encouraging members to contact their legislators to highlight the need for a bill of this nature.