Outdoors Blog

Boise woman pushes for statewide yew ban; Costco throws out the poisonous shrubs

Lynn Kinter, lead botanist for Idaho Fish and Game, holds a box filled with trimmings from a yew plant.
Lynn Kinter, lead botanist for Idaho Fish and Game, holds a box filled with trimmings from a yew plant. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Ever since reports surfaced of dozens of big-game animals dying in the Treasure Valley from ingesting poisonous landscaping plants, Angela Rossmann of Boise has been trying to find a solution.

She reached out to the businesses that sell the toxic yews. She called city, county and state government agencies and elected officials. She pushed for education through media outlets.

She has decided that perhaps her best chance of stopping the sale of yews comes down to an obscure piece of state government called negotiated rulemaking. She has petitioned the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to list toxic yews — Japanese, English, Chinese and Canadian specifically — as noxious weeds and ban the importation of them to Idaho.

Yew bushes are responsible for dozens of wildlife deaths this winter in the Treasure Valley. Lynn Kinter of Idaho Fish and Game explains how to identify a yew and what to do if you have one.

“We have a mess, and the question is how do we best form a solution,” she said of her motivation. “It certainly was never my intention to take it to the state level. I was naive enough to think as a community we have wholesalers who would make the conscious, moral decision to protect the public safety.”

[Related: Here’s how to know if you have a wildlife-killing shrub in your yard — and what to do]

Rossmann, a member of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, still must choose one of two routes for her request. She can ask for a temporary, emergency rule that would require the approval of Gov. Butch Otter. Or she can wait for the negotiated rulemaking process to play out — a process that wouldn’t come to a conclusion until the rule was presented to the 2018 Legislature for approval.

Even if she goes the emergency route, she would need to go through the negotiated rulemaking process to create a permanent rule.

“The ultimate goal is to have some type of a rule that you can find consensus on with the stakeholders and then that becomes the proposed rule that we present back to the Legislature,” said Brian Oakey, the deputy director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. “That would be next year. It’s about a year-long process to get through everything that’s required.”

The process will begin in earnest when the Legislature adjourns for the year, likely this week. Sen. Lee Heider proposed a bill this session that was printed and would have designated Japanese yew as a noxious weed. His bill, which has sat in the Agriculture committee since early March, would have banned the sale and possession of the plant. People who knowingly have Japanese yews in their yards would have been required to remove them.

Heider didn’t respond to an interview request on the subject.

If Rossmann decides to request a temporary rule, she’ll need to convince Otter that the rule is for “protection of the public health, safety or welfare,” according to Idaho Code.

Yews are toxic to people, dogs and livestock as well as wildlife.

“The burden is much higher to prove that you have an emergency to justify a rule going into place without bringing stakeholders to the table and giving them a chance to weigh in on the whole procedure,” Oakey said. “... Our role is to facilitate the process. It’s kind of up to her to bring all the evidence that she has and propose what kind of changes she wants.”

Rossmann also was involved in Costco’s decision earlier this week to pull yews from its Boise store and throw them away. Costco members posted on neighborhood social networks about seeing the plants over the weekend, and at least a couple members complained to the store. Rossmann spoke to a corporate staff member who told her the plants are only sold in Idaho and Kentucky.

“We read the stories (about yew poisoning),” said Rich Graber, the manager of the Boise Costco. “I had never seen the stories. Our corporate office decided it was the right thing to do.”

Costco has sold the plants in Boise for years, Graber said, but won’t sell them in Idaho anymore.

“I think that’s pretty tremendous,” Rossmann said.

FarWest Landscape and Garden Center in Boise has offered to provide a $30 credit toward a replacement shrub for anyone who brings a yew to the store, even if they purchased it elsewhere. About 25 homeowners have brought in about 100 yews as part of the program, owner Dennis Fix said. He decided to keep selling yews with more education about their toxicity and where they might cause problems for wildlife.

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