Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Let's be wise stewards of Idaho's outdoors

By State Senator Les Bock and State Rep. George Sayler

There’s nothing like summertime in Idaho. By now, we’re all making plans for a last few weekends of horseback trips, whitewater rafting or camping in that still-secluded spot that no one else seems to know about.

Whether your summertime rituals involve an annual hike up a favorite trail or Sunday evenings at the old fishing hole, the great outdoors are one big reason most of us choose to live in Idaho. From our pristine lakes and rivers to abundant, accessible public land to clear blue skies, we are blessed with scenic and recreational riches.

We also know that these gifts were given to us to use wisely, and that we are called to be stewards of the air, land and water that both feed our souls and help us keep food on our tables. Just as we all shoulder a great deal of individual responsibility for our actions, as lawmakers, we know that decisions made in the Idaho Legislature can affect our environment. Are we making the best decisions?

This past session, the Legislature wisely voted to protect Idaho’s waters from zebra mussels and quagga mussels, which are wreaking havoc across the West. At the same time, however, most legislators in the majority party chose to reject safeguards that would protect our rivers, lakes and groundwater from inadequate septic systems and toxic chemicals. Was that a good decision?

The near-record-long 2009 session ended with a hasty budget compromise that used state general fund money to fund roads and bridges. One loser in this shell game was the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, which provides affordable recreation opportunities within a short drive of nearly every Idahoan. With Idaho awash in federal recovery funds for roads and bridges, was it really wise to raid the Parks and Recreation budget?

As a nation, we recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of one of science’s greatest achievements, the Apollo 11 spaceflight to the moon. Just days before that anniversary, Idaho hosted the Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference. It was clear at that meeting that Idaho is poised to be a leader in creating jobs through a broad array of energy options. Why is it that our neighboring states are far ahead of us in what ought to be the Apollo project of the early 21st century: working to create clean energy jobs that not only lift our economy but decrease our dangerous dependence on foreign oil? Can the Idaho Legislature look beyond gas tax fights to work toward a future where applied science, political will and collaborations among our universities and businesses make us a model of energy innovations? Democrats pledge to do so.

As far as we know, we have only one planet suitable for sustaining life. Idahoans have come to realize that our actions matter and that, if we want to pass on the planet’s gifts to our children and their grandchildren, we must take seriously our role as caretakers of our precious environment. Democratic lawmakers in the Idaho Legislature share a commitment to being sure our decisions are those that our descendants can live with – and those that will ensure that like us, they’ll have a chance to enjoy Idaho’s natural beauty and bounty for generations to come.

Senator Les Bock of Boise and Representative George Sayler of Coeur d’Alene serve in the Idaho Legislature.