Curious Idaho round 2 is complete. Find out what won, get answers to your questions

Idaho Statesman Curious Idaho voting round No 2 is complete — and we have a winner. With 216 total votes, this one received nearly half (106):

Who makes up our prison population — violent versus non-violent offenders, 1st time drug users? Do we need more prisons or better sentencing?

(The questioner wanted to remain anonymous.)

We have two reporters who are vying to do this story. We’ll let you know who gets the assignment soon. Also, our first story about how the Idaho National Laboratory came to be in the Gem State is in the works. And we’ll hang on to the other two questions for later.

In the meantime

We’ve gotten so many questions about Idaho history, law, culture and lifestyle, that we won’t be able to vote on all of them, so I thought we would answer them here. And because great minds often think alike — we’ve actually answered a several of them in the past. Here are three questions about some of the issues and ideas that sparked your curiosity answered with previous stories — and updates.

0408 Bike Ped Drivers Test (5)
Idaho Statesman file

1. Bicyclists don’t have to follow normal driving laws. Why not? We got a few questions about bicycle laws, including this one from a reader in Meridian, and we have several stories that answer what they are. Last year, Michael Deeds did a terrific column that looked at the basics and the quirky laws that govern bicyclists in Idaho. But that wasn’t enough for one reader who wanted to know why one particular law — known as the “Idaho stop law” that allows cyclists to “to treat a stop sign as a yield sign, and a red light as a stop sign” — exists.

So I caught up with Boise bicycle police officer Andy Johnson, who knows the laws inside and out.

In 2007, I did a story about the state law that was adopted in 1988. The officer I spoke with said it was because the modern bicycles didn’t have enough metal in them to set off the under street magnetic sensors that governed the lights.

“There is truth to that origin,” Johnson said, “But there are more reasons why we maintain it.”

Now, traffic lights are triggered by motion sensors in the cameras on top of the lights. So now the issues that keeps the law in place center around safety and traffic flow, he said.

“We now have more commuters of all kinds —vehicles and bicycles,” Johnson said. “The increased number leads to congestion, and stacking up bikes at a light can be dangerous.” Keeping traffic flowing is safer for everyone.

Cyclists can go forward on red — and remember they’re moving slower than cars — “this way all the traffic keeps moving and bikes can keep up with vehicles that flow through on greens.”

“I know, some drivers say it’s not ‘fair,’ and it’s not, but it is equitable,” Johnson said. “And life isn’t fair. It’s also not fair that cars have to be registered and you need a license, and you don’t for a bicycle. No one is complaining about that. We all need — cyclists and drivers — to ride and drive less aggressively and with less entitlement.”

Read more about Idaho bicycle laws.

A low-water theme is perfect for southern Idaho gardens. Darin Oswald Idaho Statesman file

2. Given that we live in a desert, what kinds of plants can we landscape with that will require little to no watering but also look nice? Yes, water is definitely a growing issue in the Treasure Valley and beyond, and it gets more so with every year. We’ve done several stories about how to apply low water-xeriscaping rather than traditional grass, shrubs and flowers. The most recent is by former reporter and photographer Joe Jaszewski, who wrote a “how to kill your lawn” story, with a great video. In 2016, reporter Katy Moeller took a look at the trend with master gardener Debbie Courson Smith and offers great resources where you can learn more. Follow our garden columnist Margaret Lauterbach to learn more about gardening in the Treasure Valley.

1121 News Open Range 04
A car passes a cattle sign on Simco Road in Elmore County. Idaho Statesman file

3. What are “herd districts,” which counties have them and how do they affect livestock owners and a motorist that collides with such animal? We received a couple of questions on herd districts. This one is from Duane Smith, a former Minidoka county clerk. He’s in favor of herd districts and wants to know why some counties don’t have them.

If you’re new to the state — especially if you’re from a less rural area — this is a good thing to know. The Statesman published a comprehensive story that looked at the herd district v. open range issue in 2015.

Herd districts are county commission-approved lines often drawn around small communities that designate the area not subject to open range law. Within a herd district fences must be mended and it’s the duty of the livestock owner to make sure the animals are secured. If an animal gets out and is hit, the animal’s owner is liable for the damages.

In open rangeland the opposite applies and drivers are responsible for their own safety and have the liability. So, if you hit livestock in open range you’ll pay for the damages.

Open range exists because fences are expensive, they restrict wildlife movement, and are costly to maintain,” said attorney William Myers III, who specializes in public land law at Holland & Hart. “So open range is an easy concept for county commissioners to adopt.”

The issue came to a head in 2015 when a rancher was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in Council after his prize bull was struck by a car. The stories about the Jack Yantis shooting went viral receiving millions of views. The couple who struck the animal in open rangeland were liable for their injuries, damages to their car and the cost to replace the bull.

The Nampa couple who hit the bull sought to change the open range law, but were unable to get much traction.

Myers said that nothing has changed since we published our story, and there is no longer momentum toward amending the law.

“There’s always going to be a problem with cows and cars on the road,” Myers said. “Someone will have to take responsibility and right now it’s the motorist.”

Most Idaho counties have herd districts, according to the Open Rangeland Resource Commission’s website. Currently, Adams, Benewah, Camas, Caribou, Clark, Custer, Lemhi, Oneida, and Teton counties do not but that can change. Ada County has slightly more than 30 herd districts, according to its map; all of Canyon County has herd district status. The best way to know is to contact the County Commissioner’s office in each area for an updated map. Either way drive carefully when you see the livestock signs.

Read Myers’ summation of open range laws.

Note: Two questioners wanted to remain anonymous.