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Salamander spotlights ignorance of Idaho lawmakers

Ilah Hickman, 14, poses for a photo with a young Idaho giant salamander at the state Capitol in Boise on Monday. Idaho lawmakers worried that special recognition of the Idaho giant salamander could lead to federal protections, have rejected the eighth-grader’s request that it be named the state amphibian. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Ilah Hickman, 14, poses for a photo with a young Idaho giant salamander at the state Capitol in Boise on Monday. Idaho lawmakers worried that special recognition of the Idaho giant salamander could lead to federal protections, have rejected the eighth-grader’s request that it be named the state amphibian. (Betsy Z. Russell)

WILDLIFE -- Usually it's not earth-shaking stuff when school kids approach a legislative body with a campaign to name an official state something-or-other.

But Monday's House State Affairs Committee hearing in Boise on a 14-year-old girl's request to name the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian turned out to be an exposé.

  • The meeting is covered in this story by S-R Idaho Capital reporter Betsy Russell.

Several legislators, including some from North Idaho, boldly demonstrated their ignorance by informing the eight-grade student that distinguishing the salamander could prompt federal intervention with endangered species regulations.

“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.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, stood up a pitiful role model for the student -- and all students -- with his confession: “I’m sorry, and I commend you for what you have done and the due diligence you’ve done to bring this to our attention. When I grew up (in Utah), and I was a young boy, in our swimming hole there were salamanders, we called them water dogs. … I learned to despise them. … They were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy. And I’ve not gotten over that. So to elevate them to the status of being the state amphibian, I’m not there yet.”

God help us.

In voting down the proposal, a majority of committee members shunned the advice of the Idaho attorney general, who guaranteed the state designation would have nothing whatsoever to do with encouraging federal endangered species protections.

And the panel displayed blatant ignorance on the layers of science and process involved with triggering federal intervention on behalf of a species.

Here are a couple of choice quotes from brighter lights at the Idaho House hearing:

  • “A salamander may be of little consequence to some adults, but I’ll tell you, the Idaho giant salamander that reaches 13 inches in length is a big deal to a fourth-grader. It stimulates their imagination.” 

-- Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, who urged passage of the bill.

  • “It is a mistake to ever overestimate the ignorance of the Idaho Legislature.... This is just absurd.” 

-- Frank Lundberg, a longtime Idaho herpetologist who testified in favor of the bill.

Amen.




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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