OPINION: A Billion Feet of Timber

The Importance of Idaho’s Forests and Forestry Industry

The Gem State is home to more than 21 million acres of dense and plentiful forests, covering roughly 41% of the state. Our forests provide watersheds for drinking water and habitats for wildlife. Many of us spend our free time there — hiking, ATV riding, camping, hunting, skiing, or simply enjoying Idaho’s outdoors. But our forests provide much more – Idaho’s forestry industry is vital to our very way of life.

Wood is the most basic component of homes, furniture, musical instruments, books, pencils, even toilet paper! The importance of this natural resource cannot be overstated, which is why the sustainability of our forests needs to be a top priority for the state of Idaho, for both the longevity of our timber supply and the availability of quality jobs.

Let’s let the numbers speak for themselves. The latest data available from 2021 shows that Idaho’s forest industry harvested more than one billion feet of timber, generating $2.5 billion in lumber-related products. This economic impact is irreplaceable. Lumber production provides thousands of jobs, from loggers and mill workers to arborists and truck drivers. In fact, for each million board feet of timber harvested in Idaho, more than 30 jobs are provided. That equates to more than 30,500 job opportunities statewide, careers that support local Idahoans and their families.

Our Idaho economy relies heavily on our forests, which is why their overall preservation is also key. Sustainable harvesting, including selective logging, reforestation, and habitat preservation, upholds a delicate social contract between industry and society. After each year’s harvest, new trees are planted for the future. This commitment demonstrates how responsible resource management can and will ensure that future generations are set up for success.

So, what are the steps we can take to further protect this vital industry? The new Idaho LAUNCH Program is one helpful step. High school seniors can apply for a grant of up to $8,000 to use toward Idaho post-secondary education for an in-demand career. This means interested students can use LAUNCH to help them study for a degree or learn a trade that is needed in Idaho’s forest products sector. A true win-win for both future forestry professionals and the Gem State!

Idaho is known for its abundant forests. Using these natural resources requires walking a fine line between responsible use and exploitation. Idaho is actively working to ensure we never cross that line. Our forest industry is simply too important for our state, our citizens, our country, and our very way of life.

The best thing we can all do right now is make sure our lumber producers have the right tools, guidelines, and candidates to guarantee the continued success of the forestry industry. Let us support the hardworking men and women who cultivate these important resources so we all can reap the benefits well into the future

OPINION: We Must Stop Fentanyl Traffickers. House Bill 406 is Needed for Idaho

There is a killer in our midst, hiding in plain sight. The dangerous and highly lethal drug fentanyl has made its way into Idaho and is killing our citizens in record numbers. In 2022, 49% of all overdose deaths in Idaho were related to fentanyl, and that number is likely underreported.

We need to send a clear message to the drug cartels and traffickers who are sneaking this drug into our state that they are NOT welcome in our communities. One way to send that message is to pass House Bill 406. This bill passed out of the Idaho House of Representatives on Monday, January 29, and is now heading to the Idaho Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee. This legislation will add fentanyl trafficking to our mandatory minimum sentencing law which already applies to other hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. Support for this legislation is strong; more than 86% of Idahoans agree with its provisions.

It’s important to clarify that House Bill 406 does NOT target fentanyl users or victims. This proposed law would apply only to those found guilty of intentionally producing, importing, distributing, or selling fentanyl into Idaho. This epidemic must be cut off at the source – and that source is the traffickers.

Fentanyl is a highly effective, and highly addictive, narcotic pain killer – as much as 100 times more potent than morphine, 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug traffickers know this, which is why they mix small amounts into other drugs which are often made to look like regular medications. But sometimes the “small amounts” are enough to be deadly. So, an unsuspecting person may think they are taking a helpful prescription pill, but in fact they may be ingesting a lethal dose of fentanyl.

This drug is a danger to law enforcement and health care/EMT personnel as well because they may come into direct contact with fentanyl in the course of their duties. Because it is lethal even in miniscule amounts, these public servants are put at risk more and more often as illegal fentanyl use increases on our streets.

According to the DEA, every fentanyl pill has a 70% chance of containing a lethal dose. Do you want your teenager or loved one to take that chance?

Idaho must take a hard stance on trafficking. We need to send a clear message by imposing stringent sentencing guidelines for those selling this deadly poison to unsuspecting Idahoans. House Bill 406 will hold fentanyl traffickers accountable and will cause drug cartels to rethink doing business in Idaho due to the risks of prison time.

My colleagues and I have a duty to protect Idaho’s citizens. House Bill 406 supports law enforcement, deters drug cartels, holds traffickers accountable, and helps prevent more overdose deaths. I urge you to reach out to your legislators to voice support for mandatory minimum sentencing for fentanyl traffickers and tell them to vote yes on House Bill 406.

OPINION: Let’s Make Adoption Easier in Idaho

This November, we observed National Adoption Month here in Idaho. This annual event honors the courageous birth parents who choose life for their babies and the adoptive parents who open their home to a new family member.

Adoption is a bridge for those who are not ready to parent but still want to choose life for their unborn child. It is a viable solution for a challenging circumstance, one that invests in the child’s well-being while recognizing and understanding a birth parent’s limitations. Adoption puts the future of the child first.

Every child deserves to grow up in a safe home with parents and family who are ready, willing, and able to care for them. But sometimes, for various reasons, a child cannot be raised by their biological parents. That is why the option for adoption is so important, because it helps guarantee that every child can grow up in a stable and supportive home that can help guide them to a better future.

Adoption is also a blessing for those who want to grow their family and provide a child in need with a loving home. Across our country, the desire to adopt far outweighs the number of infants available for adoption. In fact, for every eligible baby there are at least 36 couples who are awaiting the chance to adopt a child.

Because I wholeheartedly support adoption as a loving option, I am very concerned about the obstacles that make this option seem too difficult. Women faced with an unintended pregnancy should be able to freely choose adoption for their unborn children, if that is the best choice for them. And yet, according to those who work in this field, Idaho’s laws are not necessarily adoption-friendly. I want to change that.

For instance, if there are financial obstacles that prevent a woman from choosing adoption, I believe we should remove those barriers and assure that adequate financial help will be offered.  If the legal process has become so cumbersome that it is a disqualifying factor, I believe we can look at streamlining that process to make it smoother and less intimidating. If birth mothers need to learn more about their adoption options or if they need some additional counseling, we should make those things available. Idaho’s laws should not be a hindrance but rather should support birth mothers in whatever ways possible.

Adoption is a compassionate and practical solution for individuals, families, and society as a whole. It relies on love and commitment; it puts another’s future before one’s own. And it fosters a culture that values and respects life.

Even though National Adoption Month has come to a close, I will continue to be a champion for Idaho’s children and an advocate for statutory changes that support parents and children throughout the adoption process.

OPINION: Idaho LAUNCH is Putting Idaho Students First

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this month. Autumn in Idaho is a beautiful season, rich with changing colors and the sure signs of winter right around the corner. Driving the state is challenging, just because of its sheer size and geographic diversity, but it’s also a visual treat.

Every time I travel through our great state, I am grateful to live here. And I want my children and grandchildren – and yours as well – to enjoy the same privilege of living, working, and raising their families right here in Idaho.

The primary goal of my recent travels has been to visit with high school seniors, encouraging them to take advantage of a promising new opportunity – the Idaho LAUNCH program.  LAUNCH is an opportunity for qualifying students to receive a grant for 80% of their post-secondary education costs, up to $8,000, to be used at an Idaho-based in-demand career program.

In case you haven’t heard, Idaho is the envy of the nation. Over the past few years, we have experienced record economic growth. Our conservative guiding principles and responsible policymaking, combined with Idahoans’ hard work, have created one of the strongest economies in the nation. Even with our record back-to-back-to-back income tax cuts and rebates, we’re still enjoying budget surpluses.

As I’ve spent time with high school students the past few weeks, I’ve seen an eagerness in them, a desire to find meaningful work right here in Idaho. They want to stay here and be successful, raising a family and pursuing a career choice that will provide for that family in the future.  These young people are engaged and involved, and they know their career options will be much brighter with additional training after high school. But post-secondary education may seem out of reach for many young Idahoans and their families.

This is where the Idaho LAUNCH program comes in.

To qualify for LAUNCH’s inaugural release, here are the requirements:

  • Must be enrolled in or have applied to an approved Idaho in-demand career program
  • Must be an Idaho resident
  • Must be a graduate of an Idaho high school or GED program from the Class of 2024 or later
  • Must begin enrollment by the first fall semester after graduation
  • Must complete a Career Pathway Plan at NextSteps.Idaho.gov

This program is not just for those who are college-bound. LAUNCH is for ALL paths forward. Do you want to be a lineman? A cosmetologist? A plumber? A nurse?  This program is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. From certain bachelor’s degrees to truck driving certifications, LAUNCH will connect students with options for in-demand careers and help launch them on a post-secondary path that works for them.

Idaho is in the nation’s top ten for everything from economic performance to employment growth. A capable, well-rounded workforce is what we need to sustain and even improve our already thriving economy. Many businesses rely on a pipeline of talented young people who are prepared to enter the workforce. I believe the key to continuing our economic growth is to connect Idaho’s youth to the best opportunities possible here in the Gem State.

Everyone can benefit from a post-secondary education, including Idaho herself. The LAUNCH program is a win-win-win: for Idaho students, Idaho employers, and our beloved state. My hope for the future is that every Idaho kid can always find an Idaho job. Idaho LAUNCH is the state’s commitment to help them do just that.

OPINION: Eradicating the Quagga Mussels

Water is invaluable. This finite resource is the lifeblood that supplies nearly everything we need in life. It irrigates our fields and generates our power, creating a lush and fruitful landscape where arid desert previously stood.

However, there is one thing we need to remember about this precious commodity: In order to be useful, water must be clean.

The state of Idaho understands the significance of maintaining and preserving our freshwater systems. I have been a part of this effort since I decided to run for elected office more than two decades ago because water, and its management, matters. Today, it matters more than ever.

If you were out enjoying one of our rivers or lakes in the past month, you’ve probably seen the signs: “Clean, Drain, and Dry.” While this is good advice for all water recreators at any time, it is of the utmost importance right now because an invasive species has been detected in Idaho – and we need your help to keep it under control.

In mid-September, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) announced the finding of quagga mussel veliger, or larvae, in the Snake River just outside of Twin Falls. Quagga mussels are found in freshwater and can easily move to new locations by attaching to watercraft that travel to and from different waterways. But the real issue is how quickly and aggressively these mussels can spread if left unchecked.

Quagga mussels are a serious threat. A single mussel can produce between 30,000 and 1,000,000 veligers a year – or roughly 82 to 2,740 every single day. These small mussels can quickly multiply, piling on top of others, until they take over the waterway. They can clog entire pipes that deliver drinking water to our households and irrigation to our fields, and they can completely shut down the turbines that power our hydroelectric systems. Quagga mussels have the potential to affect the entire Columbia River Basin, eliminate Idaho’s diverse ecological landscapes, and cause hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect costs to the state and taxpayer.

Luckily, ISDA, Governor Brad Little’s Office, and other state agencies detected the mussels early and within days, initiated a two-phase rapid response treatment plan.

On October 3, the first batch of natrix was added to a six-mile stretch of the Snake River near the Centennial Park, Pillar Falls, and Shoshone Falls areas and the Twin Falls deep pool area. Natrix is a copper-based product that is EPA-approved for aquatic applications. It was administered at a rate that eradicates the mussels but is well below the standard set for safe human usage or consumption. ISDA incrementally added the treatment to different areas of the river every 96 hours for two weeks with the goal of eradicating every mussel at every stage of life.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the ISDA, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Fish and Game, and a myriad of partnering organizations, the treatment for the quagga mussel in the Snake River has been successfully completed.

While this is good news, it does not mean the threat from this aggressive species is gone.

Quagga mussel veligers are microscopic, free-swimming larvae. They can latch onto your boat, jet ski, or kayak, and you would never know until it’s too late. This is why the state of Idaho needs your help to keep this invasive species out of our waterways.

Next time you are out enjoying our waters, remember to use these three simple and effective strategies before you leave:

  1. CLEAN all watercraft or equipment used before you leave any body of water. This includes watercrafts, anchors, trailers, waders, shoes, life jackets, and scuba equipment.
  2. DRAIN the water from all equipment, including motors, live wells, sea strainers, wakeboard ballast tanks, boat hulls, bait buckets, waders, and boots.
  3. DRY all equipment and compartments before using it in a different body of water.

Also, be sure to adhere to any watercraft inspections. These could help stop the spread of a number of invasive species before it even begins.

We must remain vigilant. While the rapid response and treatment of the Snake River shows signs of being successful, the threat is not over. Every single person, animal, and plant in the state of Idaho depends on clean water – but it is up to all of us to help keep our shared water clear of invasive species.

So, for the betterment of Idaho, its vast waters, and our way of life, please remember to Clean, Drain, and Dry.

OPINION: This Harvest Season, Thank an Idaho Farmer

Fall is a season of transition.

The summer heat and longer days start to fade, and the crisp air and changing leaves begin to arrive. The kids are back in school, football is back on weekends, and the holiday season is right around the corner.

While all of this is true, to me, fall also means the start of another endeavor: harvest season.

Idaho has been, currently is, and will always be an agriculture state. It is what we are known for. Ask anyone what they think of when they think of Idaho – more than likely their first response will be potatoes. This is understandable, as each year Idaho grows roughly 14 billion pounds of potatoes, enough to earn us the #1 spot for potato production in the country.

But contrary to popular belief, Idaho is also a top contributor of more than just potatoes. Idaho is:

  • Ranked #1 in barley, peppermint, and alfalfa hay production.
  • The 2nd largest grower of sugar beets and hops.
  • The 3rd largest producer of milk and cheese.
  • Ranked 4th in the production of onions, peas, spring wheat, and lentils.

The Gem State ranks in the top ten in the nation for 30 different agriculture commodities. Our farmers are the top exporters of many products that Americans rely on. The Idaho potato is world-famous for a reason – our potato farmers help feed the world.

It’s also important to note that unlike many of the traditional farm states in the Midwest, most of Idaho’s farms are not owned by a single entity. Idaho is home to nearly 25,000 individual farms and ranches. I am among that number – as a fourth-generation cattle rancher, my family is still running our cattle ranch in Oakley that was first established in the 1800’s by my great-grandfather.

Our mom-and-pop operations are the backbone of our agriculture industry; they have a direct or indirect effect in nearly every avenue, from our state economy to our everyday way of life. Idaho’s farming operations equate to more than 11.5 million acres of Idaho land that is used to raise cattle and grow crops for our country. These acres make an impact – 18% of Idaho’s total economic output is from agribusiness alone.

Idaho’s ag industry is only getting better. Last year, Idaho’s net farm income was estimated to be more than $3 billion – a 56% increase from 2021 and the highest net income Idaho has seen in recorded history. 2022 also saw the highest milk revenues ever at $4.2 billion, as well as cattle revenues, which came in at $1.9 billion.

We depend on our farmers and ranchers for more than food, too. One out of every eight jobs in Idaho is related to agriculture, whether it’s direct or indirect, one out of every six dollars in sales in our state was related to agriculture.

The importance of agriculture in Idaho cannot be overstated. Our farmers work hard year-round, from sunup to sundown, to feed our growing population. Idaho’s elected leaders understand the value of our farmers. Idaho continues to be proactive in supporting programs that improve the quality of our soil, water, and air, to ensure a sustainable, resilient, and economically viable agricultural system.

Idaho has been discovered. There are people moving to the Gem State every day who like the way we live and want to be a part of it. But what we all must keep in mind is that while growth is necessary, so is maintaining a viable industry and a historic part of Idaho’s identity. Our farm acres should be respected for the bounty they provide. We need our farmers and ranchers – the world needs Idaho ag producers.

So, this harvest season, let’s keep our agribusinesses in mind. Next time you gather friends and family for a backyard barbecue, thank an Idaho rancher. Next time you’re pouring your kids a glass of milk, thank an Idaho dairyman. Next time you’re enjoying a hot, fresh French fry – thank an Idaho farmer.

OPINION: “A Republic, Madam …”

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether the government being proposed for the new nation was to be a republic or a monarchy. His now-famous retort was, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.” Franklin knew how fragile this new union would be and how many conflicts and difficulties the separate states would confront on their way to becoming the United States of America.

Anyone who thinks governing is easy hasn’t actually tried it. And anyone who thinks the partisan bickering and divisive rhetoric of our present day are recent developments hasn’t learned our history – or at least the history surrounding the U.S. Constitution.

In the summer of 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia, with the stated purpose of revising the existing Articles of Confederation. But many delegates, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, had a much wider vision; they wanted to create a new government rather than fix the old one. Their vision won the day, and a new form of government was established, with three separate but co-equal branches and a mechanism to preserve the balance among them – the system under which we operate even today.

Of the 13 original states, one (Rhode Island) did not participate at all. The remaining 12 states appointed a total of 74 delegates, but only 55 showed up to begin the deliberations. Some famous Americans were notable by their absence: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were out of the country; John Hancock and Samuel Adams did not participate, possibly because they were occupied with local affairs in their states. Patrick Henry refused to participate because he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.”

The discussions were far from amicable. Sharp divisions arose over how best to structure the federal government, how to balance federal powers with those of individual states, and how to assure the proportional representation we have come to take for granted. Making matters worse, the delegates labored in Philadelphia’s sweltering and stifling heat, which caused tempers to flare and made progress excruciatingly slow. One delegate, William Richardson Davie of North Carolina, put it this way: “We move slowly in our business, it is indeed a work of great delicacy and difficulty, impeded at every step by jealousies and jarring interests.” At one point, the windows in the room were nailed shut to keep the proceedings secret, a secrecy that delegates pledged to keep for the rest of their lives.

In the course of the Convention, 13 delegates gave up and went home, convinced that no good outcome was possible. After nearly four months of difficult but determined negotiations, a workable document awaited the signatures of the 42 delegates who remained. Even then, agreement was not unanimous. Three delegates refused to sign the Constitution, and in the end, just 39 names appear on the document. Still, optimism ruled the day: Benjamin Franklin, who said he had often wondered whether the design on the president’s chair depicted a rising or a setting sun, could declare: “Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

What lessons can we take from this singular moment in our nation’s history? I think there are several. First, in order to make a difference in your world, you need to show up. The Constitution was not the product of the people who refused to attend the Convention. Second, solving big problems often requires a team of dedicated individuals who may differ in their approaches but who share a common vision and a common goal – and who are willing to keep working until they reach it. Third, sometimes the only way to arrive at a solution is to gather all parties, close the door, and nail the windows shut until a workable compromise is hammered out.

“Keeping the Republic” will not happen by accident. It will require vigilance, diligence, and a concerted effort. If you find yourself discouraged by the increasing rancor and discord in our politics today, get involved! At the very least, register to vote – and then faithfully vote in every election and on every ballot measure. Apathy will kill our Republic.

Our Founding Fathers fought through rancor, discord, and dissent, setting aside their own personal interests for the sake of the greater good. And in the end, they handed us a gift of incredible value: the United States Constitution. Under its guidance, we live in the freest and most prosperous nation on earth. I am deeply devoted to making sure that my children and grandchildren will enjoy the same opportunities I have had. I hope you will join me, because every citizen of this country needs to be engaged in this effort.

As we observe Constitution Day on September 17, each of us should take a moment to reflect on this inspired document and on its importance. And we should utter a prayer of gratitude for those who labored in Independence Hall in the summer heat of 1787 to set the course for this nation’s future.

OPINION: Idaho-Focused Accomplishments from the 2023 Legislative Session

For more than 20 years, I have had the honor of spending the beginning of each new year at the Idaho Capitol, working hard to do right by those who entrusted me to be their voice at the Statehouse and to continue to make Idaho the best state in the nation to live, work, and raise a family. The 2023 Legislative Session was no different. While my role may have changed, as your new Lieutenant Governor, I am proud of the work my legislative colleagues and I accomplished this year for the betterment of Idaho and its citizens.

A successful business climate begins with a good education system. This year, the state legislature focused on school choice, empowering parents, supporting Idaho’s public schools, and recognizing the crucial role of good teachers in every classroom. It is now Idaho law to keep parents in the driver’s seat of their child’s education and encourage consistent, transparent communication between parents and schools.

In addition, the passage of the Idaho Launch Program is a huge step forward for our state. This grant of up to $8,000 per student is an investment in Idaho high school graduates that will pay dividends back in every business sector. This scholarship will give students who want to pursue a career in the trades or attend a workforce training program the means to help pay for that education. The Idaho Career Ready Students Program that passed this session will help us meet our local industry and workforce needs by creating a pool of well-trained, skilled workers. This program will move us forward to the day when an Idaho kid can always get an Idaho job.

As inflation continues to affect almost every aspect of our lives, your elected officials also addressed rising property taxes. Governor Brad Little’s initial veto of a bill that was disguised as property tax relief was the right choice. The first bill was a mixed bag of policies that would have made significant changes to education, transportation infrastructure, and public defense funding. The Legislature then drafted a series of “trailer” bills designed to keep property tax relief simple, competitive, and long-lasting.  Idahoans will now receive $117 million of ongoing property tax relief with no unintended consequences to local control, school bonding, ambulance and fire district funding, or needed transportation projects across Idaho counties. After back-to-back-to-back years of tax relief, no other state has given back more taxpayer money per capita than Idaho has.

Idaho is focusing on the future. This year, your state government continued to remove unnecessary red tape, make smart investments in key areas, and promote a positive business climate. From establishing grant programs to help improve roads and bridges, to furthering the development of emerging clean, domestic energy technologies, and to assuring that Idaho elections are safe, secure, and transparent, the 2023 Legislative Session continued to keep Idaho well positioned for the future.

As your 44th Lieutenant Governor, I am honored and humbled by your trust. My overriding goal is to continue implementing policies that are family-centered, business-friendly, and Idaho-focused. I am proud and excited to work with Governor Little as we make our state one that we can all be proud of.