The legislative activities most likely to draw a rolling-eyes reaction, at least in the days when I was a newspaper legislative reporter, was the designation of something as the official Idaho state “something.”
Idaho has a roster of them: 16 including the state song, motto and seal. The official fossil (the Hagerman horse; no jokes please). The official fruit (the huckleberry; no jokes, please). The official raptor (the peregrine falcon; you know the drill) as well as the official state bird (the mountain bluebird).
Most reporters and legislators used to think, at least: Do we really need more? Is there need to spend legislative time on additional designations? Turns out there are some practical reasons to do so.
The first bill introduced in this session, House Bill 1, sought to designate the giant salamander as the state amphibian. It was rejected on January 19 by the House State Affairs Committee.
It’s given me cause for a rethink.
At the hearing, Frank Lundberg of Boise, who is as expert on the subject of reptiles as anyone I know, pointed out that state symbols aren’t just ornamental: “They are a way to promote and enhance understanding of qualities that are unique to the state. Our symbols serve as messengers of what is special about Idaho to other people, states and countries.”
Why a state amphibian? Lundberg: “Amphibians are one piece of the natural heritage of Idaho that makes this state such a wondrous place to live. They have some amazing characteristics, some that could one day help medical research. Salamanders can regenerate lost limbs, some frogs freeze solid in the winter, having no heartbeat, and yet defrost in the spring and hop off. The word ‘amphibian’ means double life, referring to the fact that they are born in water but often live on land. Idaho Giant Salamanders epitomize the name ‘amphibian’ as they are born and live in water with external gills, yet for reasons we don’t quite understand yet, some individuals absorb their gills, grow lungs , and go live on land, only returning to the water to breed. Twenty other states have recognized this uniqueness by including these marvelous creatures in their state symbols.”
And, he pointed out, Idaho is the only place where the Giant Salamander lives.
How would Idaho benefit from this? “It says something good about Idaho. It says we care about the things that are unique to our state, to Idaho. It provides us with yet another symbol, another tool, which we can use to promote the benefits of Idaho to others. While it may be safely stated that not everyone cares if there’s a state amphibian, many in the country do care and will take note of one unique to Idaho. A few more people will visit the state. A few more scientists will study something in Idaho. School students will have another opportunity to learn more about Idaho.”
Practical benefits, then, at no cost.
The bill, proposed by a Boise junior high student, got support from Boise-area Democrats and Republicans, but not nearly enough to clear the committee.
The counter argument seemed to be the default worry at the legislature: That there might be feds under the bed. Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls: “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.”
The designation would have nothing whatever to do with an endangered species status. (And the water litigation is aimed not at increasing but at limiting federal ability to pursue water rights.)
Looks as if there’s some room left on the learning curve at the legislature, and not just about salamanders.Share on Facebook