BOISE, Idaho - Environmentalists took a thrashing in the 1994 Idaho legislative session, which ended on April Fool's Day.
With conservative Republicans running the
House and Senate, the legislature passed laws that enhanced
industry at the expense of the environment.
it suited them, the powers that be shut us out," said Mexlinda
Harm, lobbyist for the Idaho Conservation
Wendy Wilson, executive director of Idaho
Rivers United, agreed. "There was a feeling that supporting
environmental issues would not win any sympathy with the local
Legislation passed in the
three-month-long session included a measure that makes it a felony
for anyone to "solicit" or "conspire" to block a "lawful"
timber-harvesting operation in Idaho. The bill was an attempt to
gain more legal leverage against Earth First! protesters at the
Cove-Mallard roadless area near Grangeville, Idaho, and their
The legislature also blocked
environmentalists, such as Hailey architect Jonathan Marvel, from
bidding on state grazing leases if the lessee is operating under a
grazing management plan; Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, however, vetoed
In addition, the legislature prevented
cities and counties from enacting local laws pertaining to mining
development that are tougher than state environmental
Meanwhile, environmentalists teamed
up with timber industry lobbyists and water users to write a bill
to create a statewide endangered species office. Its purpose is to
allow the state to be more aggressive in trying to keep rare plants
and animals from becoming endangered.
Farm Bureau lobbyists, who helped write the bill, backed out of
negotiations at the eleventh hour. The measure passed the Senate
but was killed in the House Resources and Conservation Committee, a
panel dominated by farm and ranch
"That was real painful," Wilson said.
"We made all kinds of changes in the legislation to suit the Farm
Bureau, and then they still came out and killed the bill."
Major revisions in water law were slam-dunked
through the House and Senate in the last two days of the session,
but a bill on groundwater cleanup never got a committee
"Groundwater contamination is a really
big issue that affects 90 percent of Idaho's drinking water
supply," Harm pointed out.
But industry lobbies
had no interest in cooperating with the legislation, and Sen. Laird
Noh, chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee,
said there was no support for bringing the bill
Wilson and Harm attributed
environmentalists' lack of success to a backlash caused by new
environmental restrictions advanced by the Clinton administration.
Noh, a sheep rancher and Nature Conservancy board member, warned
environmentalists early that their issues would take a backseat to
keeping the state's resource industries
"At this point, the political pendulum
has swung back too far in the other direction," Noh said in a
mid-session interview. "With regard to grazing, the focus now is on
policies that may destroy the entire industry. I think we've seen
almost the same thing with the timber industry, we're witnessing
the same thing with irrigation and our water rights ... In my view,
it's time to come down pretty hard on the other side of the
In Wilson's view, the legislature's
reluctance to work with environmentalists will force the activists
to seek relief at the federal level, using such levers as the
Endangered Species Act, federal reserved water rights and Clean
"I've really tried to cooperate on the
state level, and I've been a really good kid," Wilson said. "But
now, we don't have any choice. They're forcing us into the federal
Steve Stuebner writes
frequently for High Country News from Boise,