For the dog days of summer, there was a fair amount of news happening in Boise last week while I was off on vacation. Here are some highlights:
* Public records revealed that the state has sent another $15,760 payment to the private law firm it hired to defend the state Transportation Board against a wrongful-firing lawsuit from former state Transportation Director Pam Lowe. Lowe, the department's first female chief, recently settled her lawsuit, which charged both gender discrimination and political pressure; the settlement hasn't yet been disclosed. The state's legal bill to the law firm of Holland & Hart now adds up to $556,239.
* U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Candy Dale sided with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter in a lawsuit challenging the federal listing of slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The court decision requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit the issue; a jubilant Otter said he was “encouraged” that the court agreed the federal decision was “flawed.” The plant, a native desert flower found only in small parts of southern Idaho, was declared threatened in 2009 despite several years of efforts by the Otter Administration to develop a conservation plan. The primary threats to the rare flower are trampling by livestock, off-road vehicles, agriculture and other human activity.
* The Idaho Department of Lands announced that fiscal year 2012 saw a record timber harvest of 330 million board feet of timber from state endowment trust lands; that's about 35 percent of the total timber harvest in the state, though state-managed forests are only about 5 percent of Idaho's forest lands, and it's 150 percent of the five-year average for state timber harvest. However, it's only 98.5 percent of the five-year average for state timber harvest receipts; that's due to lower timber prices that have dropped significantly in the last five years.
* An archaeological dig by the University of Idaho in the heart of downtown Boise found artifacts dating back 130 years in an old well discovered on the Basque Block; items recovered included an intact decorative bottle of Gilt Edge ladies' shoe polish, marbles and jacks, and the head of a porcelain doll.
* A state prison instructor was arrested for having sexual contact with a prisoner, a felony; the female instructor taught at both the South Boise Women's Correctional Center and the South Idaho Correctional Institution, a minimum-security prison for men south of Boise.
* Boise Police raided six massage parlors in a sweep resulting in charges ranging from prostitution to licensing violations.
* State tax revenues for July came in 1.5 percent below forecast, $3.4 million down. All but one category, miscellaneous revenue, missed the forecast, which called for the month's general tax revenues to rise by 6.4 percent over last year's July revenues; instead, it was 1.5 percent lower.
* Idaho has seen an increase in fatal motorcycle accidents, with preliminary data showing 13 motorcycle deaths in the state so far, compared to six at the same time in 2011. Six of the 13 were in July. Most of those who died were men over age 40; those who went through the state-sponsored motorcycle skills training, STAR, or Skills Training Advantage for Riders, had a 79 percent lower risk of being involved in a crash.
* Olympic cycling gold medalist Kristin Armstrong was welcomed home to Boise by a crowd of more than 1,000 at a group bike ride and celebration on Saturday, at which Gov. Butch Otter proclaimed it “Kristin Armstrong Day” in the state, and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter declared Armstrong's almost-2-year-old son Lucas honorary mayor. It was also Armstrong's 39th birthday.