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Eye On Boise

Lawmakers kill state salamander bill, cite fears of ‘federal overreach’

14-year-old Ilah Hickman with a young Idaho Giant Salamander, at the Idaho state Capitol on Monday (Betsy Russell)
14-year-old Ilah Hickman with a young Idaho Giant Salamander, at the Idaho state Capitol on Monday (Betsy Russell)

North Idaho lawmakers concerned about “federal overreach” helped kill a bill today that’s been pushed for the past five years by a determined 8th grader who wants to designate the Idaho Giant Salamander as the official state amphibian.  Although an Idaho attorney general’s opinion advised lawmakers that designating a state symbol wouldn’t do anything to protect it or make it endangered, Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “It can be come protected – there’s actually no legal impediment.” She said as a North Idaho resident, she’s wary of tales like that of the spotted owl.

Ilah Hickman, a 14-year-old student at Les Bois Junior High in Boise, told the House State Affairs Committee, “Students all over Idaho are interested in this potential state symbol.” She presented her extensive research about the reclusive salamander, which has Idaho in its name and resides almost exclusively in the state; at full growth, the pattern on its back resembles a topographical map of Idaho’s Bitterroot mountain range.

New Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, said, “My whole concern is potential federal overreach. 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.” Said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, "It’s probably more prudent to be conservative about this.” You can read my full story here at

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, who co-sponsored Ilah’s bill, said, “We addressed that. We got an opinion from the Attorney General – it was very clear. I spoke with him personally. He said no way, no how was a state symbol going to impact that whatsoever.” 

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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