2024 State Legislative Debrief: Idaho

May 7, 2024

By Rachael Hamby

Idaho’s state legislature meets annually for regular sessions that generally last 75–90 days, though there is no specific requirement around the number of days. Any topics may be considered during a regular session. In the 2024 session, 636 bills were introduced. Of these, 332 bills passed both chambers and 328 were signed by Governor Brad Little; two bills became law without Governor Little’s signature, and two bills were vetoed. Of 82 resolutions, memorials, and proclamations that were introduced, 37 were adopted.

With the legislature largely distracted by hot-button social and cultural topics such as regulating AI-generated obscene materials and creating legal gender definitions, this year’s legislative session had mixed results for conservation issues. On the positive side, department budgets included a variety of line items for priorities including state parks and other outdoor recreation investments. A handful of bills also addressed land management policy. The Sustainable Management of National Forests Act calls for a “balanced approach” to forest management “to fulfill relevant ecological, economic, and social functions,” recognizes the importance of forests and wildfire risk management for watershed health and drinking water quality, and authorizes the Idaho Department of Lands to collaborate on forest management with the federal government, including through participating in the Good Neighbor Authority program for cooperative forest management and watershed restoration. A separate bill appropriated funds to carry out Good Neighbor Authority agreements.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Bureau of Land Management

The legislature also passed the Rangeland Improvement Act, which creates an account for projects that address rangeland improvement, control of predatory animals, management of invasive vegetation, and watershed protection, though no actual funds were appropriated into the account this session. H 608 Agricultural protection area act creates a new agricultural protection area designation, oversight commission, and process intended to provide a voluntary option that landowners can apply for in order to preserve agricultural land. Both bills were signed by the governor.

Disappointingly, the legislature passed a non-binding memorial expressing opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule, which recognizes conservation as a land use on an equal footing with other uses of BLM-managed public lands. Despite the Idaho state legislature’s opposition, the rule was finalized shortly after the conclusion of the legislative session.

Little Jacks Creek Wilderness, Bureau of Land Management

A number of bills were introduced related to wildlife in Idaho. Legislators appropriated funds for wildlife crossings, habitat improvement, and a conservation easement, and passed a few bills to support big game animals. With the passage of H 404 Records, individuals can no longer file a public records request to obtain wildlife location information, preventing the use of these records as a shortcut for hunters and others to locate and track animals in a manner inconsistent with fair chase practices. And with H 586 Fish and game, nonresidents will now be required to obtain a license before collecting antlers or horns shed by deer, elk, moose, or pronghorn. In general, regulation of shed hunting is intended to decrease stress on animals by reducing human activity, especially during winter months when food is scarce. Bills unfriendly to wolves and grizzly bears were introduced, but failed to pass.

All in all, legislators made encouraging appropriations to a handful of conservation priorities and avoided majorly damaging policy outcomes. Read on for more details on actions the legislature took this session to address land management, forest health and wildfire, agricultural lands and grazing, state trust lands, wildlife, outdoor recreation, energy, and water.

Snake Wild and Scenic River, Bureau of Land Management

Land and forest management

HJM 6 Lands expresses the legislature’s opposition to, and urges the withdrawal of, the Bureau of Land Management’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule, which was finalized shortly after the conclusion of Idaho’s legislative session. The final rule recognizes conservation as a land use on an equal footing with other uses of BLM-managed public lands. HJM 6 was adopted by the House (57 to ten with three not voting) but did not advance out of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee.

H 614 Forests enacts a new Sustainable Management of National Forests Act which contains a number of legislative declarations and authorizations related to forest management. The legislative declarations include statements in support of a “balanced approach” to sustainable management of national forests “to fulfill relevant ecological, economic, and social functions.” The legislature also states its recognition of the importance of forests and wildfire risk management for watershed health and drinking water quality. The bill authorizes the Department of Lands to collaborate on forest management, including through participating in the Good Neighbor Authority program for cooperative forest management and watershed restoration. This bill was signed by Governor Little. To support implementation of H 614, the legislature also appropriated an additional $175,000 through H 748 Appropriations — department of lands which was also signed by the governor.

H 468 Rangeland improvement act creates a new Rangeland Improvement Account, overseen by the Grazing Board Central Committee, which is authorized to distribute funds for projects that address rangeland improvement, control of predatory animals, management of invasive vegetation, and watershed protection. The account is authorized to receive funds from various sources but the legislature did not appropriate any funds into the account. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

H 619 Wildfire risk reinsurance and mitigation pool would have created an Idaho Wildfire Risk Reinsurance and Mitigation Pool, governed by a board, and containing two funds: one for voluntary reinsurance for insurers, and another for grants for property owners to harden structures against wildfires. The goal was to discourage property insurers from withdrawing from the state due to escalating wildfire risk, as has happened in California recently. This bill did not advance out of the House Business Committee.

H 496 Property updates existing Idaho law — which already prohibits a foreign government or foreign state-controlled enterprise from acquiring a controlling interest in agricultural land, water rights, or mineral rights — to clarify that forest land is included in this prohibition. H 496 also clarifies that federally-recognized Tribes are not considered foreign governments for the purposes of this prohibition. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

St. Anthony Sand Dunes, Bureau of Land Management

State lands

S 1410 Appropriations — State Board of Land Commissioners, the budget for the agency overseeing Idaho’s state trust lands, includes a number of fire-related line items, funding for carrying out Good Neighbor Authority agreements for forest, rangeland, and watershed health, and continued support for the development of an abandoned mine database. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

S 1292 Lands removes responsibility for representing the Idaho Department of Lands from the Office of the Attorney General, and authorizes the Department of Lands to instead hire its own attorneys, independent of the Office of the Attorney General and subject to approval from the State Board of Land Commissioners (made up of the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and State Controller). This bill was signed by Governor Little.

S 1443 Endowment Trust Lands would have required the State Board of Land Commissioners to lease state endowment trust lands with terms and conditions that “ensure the sustainable management and stewardship of the leased lands appropriate for the type of use,” and provided for the board to require reclamation and restoration bonds. This bill passed the Senate (34 to zero with one not voting) but did not advance out of the House Resources and Conservation Committee.

H 608 Agricultural protection area act creates a new agricultural protection area designation, oversight commission, and process intended to provide a voluntary option that landowners can apply for to preserve agricultural land. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

S 1342 Grazing leases extends the maximum term for a grazing lease from 20 years to 40 years, and exempts grazing leases from a requirement that a hearing be held for any state land leases longer than 20 years. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wildlife

S 1382 Appropriations — department of fish and game includes line items for wildlife crossing initiatives, fish habitat restoration, and a conservation easement. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

H 649 Appropriations — Office of Species Conservation authorized an additional full-time staffer for the Office of Species Conservation and appropriated an additional $113,000 to the office. This bill was signed by Governor Little. This funding is in addition to the $20 million for the office included in a general appropriations bill also signed by the governor.

H 592 Depredation creates a new fund to compensate landowners for livestock killed by grizzly bears and wolves, and to invest in wildlife-livestock conflict prevention and deterrent efforts. The bill includes an annual appropriation of $225,000, with $150,000 dedicated to landowner compensation and the remaining $75,000 dedicated to prevention. In addition, H 612 Wolf depredation control board updates the existing Wolf Depredation Control Board and Wolf Control Fund to allow for compensation for livestock losses. Both bills were signed by Governor Little.

Also related to wolves, S 1340 Fish and game would have rewarded outfitters for filling wolf tags by offering them the opportunity to purchase additional bighorn sheep, mountain goat, or moose tags. In addition to incentivizing the killing of wolves, this would have also meant that fewer bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and moose tags would be available to the general public. This bill did not pass out of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee.

HJM 10 Grizzly bear would have expressed the legislature’s opposition to reintroduction of grizzly bears or any other efforts to support them, and advocated instead for continuing current management practices unchanged. This resolution did not pass out of the House Resources and Conservation Committee.

S 1231 Fish and game would have stiffened penalties for wildlife-related violations by adding the possibility of revoking the violator’s hunting, fishing, or trapping privileges in the state for up to three years in addition to any other penalty imposed. It also would have prevented anyone with outstanding fines or penalties for wildlife-related violations from applying for future hunting or fishing licenses, tags, or permits, and provided for the suspension of lifetime licenses, until the outstanding fines or penalties have been paid. This bill passed the Senate (34 to zero with one not voting) but did not advance out of the House Resources and Conservation Committee.

H 404 Records adds wildlife location data to the list of public records that are exempt from disclosure, meaning that individuals can no longer file a public records request to obtain wildlife location information. This prevents the use of these records as a shortcut for hunters and others to locate and track animals in a manner inconsistent with fair chase practices. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

With the passage of H 586 Fish and game, signed by Governor Little, nonresidents will now be required to obtain a license before collecting antlers or horns shed by deer, elk, moose, or pronghorn. In general, regulation of shed hunting is intended to decrease stress on animals by reducing human activity, especially during winter months when food is scarce.

Borah Peak, photo by Rachael Hamby

Outdoor recreation

S 1383 Appropriations — department of parks and recreation includes a number of enhancements to the Department of Parks and Recreation annual budget, including for a number of state park maintenance and upgrade projects, recreation infrastructure, and seven new full-time staff positions. This bill was signed by Governor Little.

HCR 46 Timber and grazing lands would have expressed the legislature’s support for acquiring certain timber and grazing lands, especially if those lands would also provide recreation opportunities. This resolution did not advance out of the House Resources and Conservation Committee.

Two very similar bills would have addressed rights-of-way and access to public lands and waters. S 1217 Public rights-of-way and S 1258 Public rights-of-way would have required that if a highway or public right-of-way that provides public access to state or federal public lands or waters is being abandoned or vacated, equivalent or better access must be provided as a replacement to ensure perpetual unfettered public access. S 1258 passed the Senate (33 to 2) but did not advance out of the Transportation and Defense Committee in the House. S 1217 did not advance out of the Transportation Committee in the Senate.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Bureau of Land Management

Energy

H 519 Critical infrastructure would have made it a crime to impede critical infrastructure or trespass on a critical infrastructure facility. The definition of “critical infrastructure” in the bill includes a variety of energy production and transport facilities and pipelines, indicating that this bill may have been at least in part intended to discourage and punish energy-related protests. Similar bills have been considered in other Western states in recent years. H 519 did not advance out of the House Judiciary, Rules, and Administration Committee.

H 534 Fuels tax would have created a new definition of “electric fuel” for commercial vehicles, imposed a tax on electric fuel equivalent to that already imposed on motor fuel, and required that an electric fuel provider (i.e. someone who installs an EV charging station) obtain a motor fuel distributor license and purchase a meter to measure electric fuel for tax purposes. This would add an additional layer of difficulty to expanding EV charging. The bill did not advance out of the House Transportation and Defense Committee.

SCR 113 Energy expresses the legislature’s support for nuclear advanced energy technologies and encourages the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to streamline processes for licensing, siting, construction, and oversight of advanced nuclear reactors. This resolution was adopted by both chambers by voice vote.

Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Bureau of Land Management

Water

SJM 103 Water, adopted by both the Senate (29 to 5 with one not voting) and the House (by voice vote) expresses the legislature’s opposition to removing or breaching dams on the Columbia-Snake River system and its tributaries. HJM 9 Snake River dam, flows expresses the legislature’s recommendation to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that flows in the Snake River at and below Hells Canyon Dam be maintained at 8,500 cubic feet per second from May to October.

S 1286 Homeowner’s associations would have prohibited homeowner’s associations from requiring grass lawns, ensuring that homeowners would have the option to use native plants or other landscaping that reduces water use. This bill did not advance out of the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

Takeaways and looking to next year

Overall, while Idaho state legislators did not make particular progress on conservation this session, they also managed to steer clear of the session’s most concerning proposals, and avoided the temptation to take up some the ideas currently popular with anti-conservation extremists in neighboring Western states. Funding and staffing for forest health and outdoor recreation were notable bright spots. Hopefully, Idaho lawmakers will continue to make investments in conservation, landscape health, and the outdoor recreation economy in the years to come.

 

Feature image: Sawtooth Wilderness, photo by Rachael Hamby