Two primary winners tout conservation collaboration

Environmental groups celebrate knocking out Pearce and Barrett.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comMay 23, 2014 

Backers of cooperation on Idaho's environmental issues and continued federal ownership of public lands in the state were among the winners in Tuesday's election.

Two of Idaho environmental groups' biggest opponents - Sen. Monty Pearce and Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett - were defeated in the closed GOP primary by candidates who say they want collaborative conservation efforts.

New Plymouth's Pearce represents District 9, the border counties of Adams, Washington, Canyon and Payette counties. He was defeated by Abby Lee, 42, of Fruitland, the public information director at Treasure Valley Community College.

Merrill Beyeler, 69, a Leadore cattle rancher, beat Barrett, of Challis. The 22-year House veteran and chairwoman of the House Local Government Committee has been an outspoken critic of nearly every environmental initiative. Beyeler will represent District 8, which comprises Valley, Lemhi, Custer and Boise counties.

Both Lee and Beyeler (pronounced BEE-ler) say they want to bring people together on the economy and the environment.

In fact, all but one of the statewide candidates pushing Idaho to take over land controlled by the federal government lost. That likely will make it more difficult for lawmakers to join other states in a lawsuit.

"Perhaps this makes more space to talk about collaboration," said John Freemuth, a Boise State University professor who is an expert on federal land policy.

Idaho gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher, lieutenant governor candidate Jim Chmelik, attorney general candidate Chris Troupis and secretary of state candidate Lawerence Denney all support the legislative resolution Denney authored demanding that the federal government give up its Idaho lands. Only Denney won Tuesday.

Chmelik and Troupis both made the federal land takeover cornerstones of their campaigns.

"They made it more of an issue than some people did, and they got hammered," Freemuth said.

OUTSIDE SPENDING

Conservation Voters for Idaho spent $30,000 each in third-party campaigns for Beyeler and Stephen Snedden, a Sandpoint Republican who lost to Heather Scott in North Idaho's District 1.

Conservation Voters spent $7,500 for a phone-calling campaign targeting Pearce, an aggressive champion of oil and gas exploration in Idaho and the powerful chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee. The calls highlighted Pearce's failure to disclose that he held mineral leases during an oil-and-gas regulation bill debate in 2012.

The group also pointed out his comment during confirmation hearings that Fish and Game Commissioner Joan Hurlock should have applied to the nursing commission.

An ethics committee review cleared Pearce on the disclosure question, but the Senate changed the rules to require more disclosure.

Pearce and Barrett have been strong supporters of the state takeover of federal lands.

"We took out the most anti-environmental members of the House and the Senate," said John Reuter, Conservation Voters for Idaho executive director.

BACKLASH?

Beyeler welcomed the Conservation Voters' mailers and radio ads, but Lee said the phone calls against Pearce generated a counter-campaign that she had to overcome in the final days of the race.

"I don't think it was a helpful factor," Lee said. "I had to spend a lot of time to say we were not aligned with this group."

The calls were made by a Washington, D.C., firm called Winning Connections. Whether they made a difference or not, and whether Lee asked for it or not, Lee has to own it, said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, a Pearce ally.

"It happened," Boyle said. "Did she ask for their help? I have no idea. But she received it and she benefited from it."

Despite the controversy over campaign tactics, Lee said she does support collaborative conservation efforts such as those in Adams County by loggers, environmentalists, sportsmen and other groups to find consensus on timber sales that provide the economy with logs and jobs.

She also pointed to the strong support she received from ag groups, including the Idaho Cattle Association PAC and PACs representing the potato, wheat, barley and sugar and milk industries.

"I'm for protecting wildlife and livestock, not wolves," Lee said.

CONSERVATION CREDENTIALS

Beyeler is no friend of wolves, either. He supported creating a wolf control board to fund wolf killing, which Barrett opposed because she said Idaho already had too many boards. Barrett's position was attacked by the Idaho Prosperity Fund, the PAC of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.

The same day Beyeler was nominated in the District 8 House race, he was elected chairman of the Lemhi Valley Land Trust, a conservation group. Not only did he not hide his ties to conservation efforts, he touted them on his campaign website.

Beyeler and his three sons raise 800 cattle on 4,800 acres of private land and more than 40,000 acres of public range along the Lemhi River.

He is a member of the Central Idaho Rangeland Network, a group of nine ranchers who advocate techniques to protect the land and help the ranching business.

"I look at the natural resource landscape and our production landscape and I do not look at those as conflicting," Beyeler said.

Beyeler will face Democrat Jocelyn Francis Plass of Stanley in November.

Lee has no opponent in the November election.

LAND CAMPAIGN

Boyle said the defeat of those who support taking over federal land will not stop the long-term campaign for the proposal. The primary campaigns got the discussion going and exposed the idea to more Idahoans, she said.

Reuter is a Republican who comes from a Weiser-area sheep ranching family and who grew up in Oregon. He said Beyeler's victory and the defeat of Pearce, Chmelik and Troupis does send a message.

"One of the lessons of this election is (that) protecting Idaho's landscapes, our air, our water and our wildlife are universal Idaho values," Reuter said.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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