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Otter vetoes invasive species bill

This license plate was placed in a lake contaminated with invasive mussels for six weeks. If zebra or quagga muscles get into Idaho, water pipes, dams and other form of water way infrastructure will have to continually be cleared. Photo by Benton Alexander Smith.

A license plate that was exposed to aquatic mussels for six weeks was displayed at the Idaho Legislature this winter. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter vetoed a bill that would have created an administrative position in charge of keeping invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels out of Idaho. Photo by Benton Alexander Smith.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter vetoed one of the Legislature’s attempts to keep quagga and zebra mussels out of Idaho, but encouraged groups to continue to work on the issue.

Quagga and zebra mussels are invasive aquatic species introduced to the United States from the Black Sea in the 1980s. They have surfaced in lakes and rivers in most states and have proven nearly impossible to eradicate.

Idaho hasn’t found any contaminated waterways yet, but the neighboring states of Utah, Nevada and Montana have. If the mussels make it into Idaho, they will cost the state about $100 million a year because of how quickly they spread and their ability to clog needed infrastructure such as water pipes and dams, according to agricultural and other groups.

The Legislature passed several bills this year to better protect Idaho against the mussels, including creating new boat check stations, increasing out-of-state boat fees and creating a new position within the governor’s office that would weigh in on invasive species policy.

Otter vetoed the bill that would have created the new administrative position, but issued an executive order to maintain an existing task force studying invasive species.

Association Management Group, which represents multiple agricultural interests including food producers, alfalfa, seeds, onions and grass, lobbied in favor of several of the bills that the Legislature passed because of the threat quagga mussels pose to irrigation systems. The group did not take a stand on the bill Otter vetoed, however, and said Idaho took adequate steps to protect itself by creating more boat inspection sites and increasing funding for invasive species efforts, said Benjamin Kelly of Association Management Group.

“We got extra funding and we see that as very good progress,” Kelly said.

Environmental groups such as the Idaho Conservation League have said they are disappointed in the governor’s decision to veto the bill, but are happy that Idaho still took some action to protect itself from the spread of mussels this year.

This story was updated on April 11 to show that Association Management Group did not lobby for or against the invasive species bill that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter vetoed.

About Benton Alexander Smith

Benton Alexander Smith is a reporter for the Idaho Business Review, covering the Idaho Legislature, new business, technology and financial services.