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Governor's budget request includes funding for ag projects

BOISE – Gov. Brad Little’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes $800,000 to help the state continue to manage problem wolves.

It also includes authority for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to use $2 million in matching funds toward a new, modern laboratory designed to meet rapidly increasing demand from the state’s farming sector for animal and plant testing services.

In his fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, Little, a rancher and farmer, recommended $400,000 in funding for the Idaho Wolf Depredation Control Board.

Little told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation his recommendation signals his ongoing commitment to the wolf board, which was created in 2014 and tasked with funding lethal control of wolves that cause problems for livestock and wildlife.

“Wolf management continues to be an important part of Idaho’s ecology,” Little said in an email. “It is important to treat the funding as a recurring yearly investment within my budget.”

Federal funding for wolf control actions in Idaho declined by about $620,000 per year from 2009 to 2014. The wolf control board was created to make up that deficit.

The board had received $400,000 per year in state funds until last year, when lawmakers followed Little’s recommended that it receive $200,000 in state funding. Little last year told Farm Bureau members that he recommended the board receive less funding in fiscal 2020 because it had built up a big reserve fund and we wanted the board to use that reserve first.

The governor told Farm Bureau members he fully understands the impact that wolves are having on Idaho’s livestock and wildlife and that the board would receive the necessary funding in the future.

“They will have the resources they need,” he told Farm Bureau during an interview.

Weiser-area rancher Cody Chandler, a member of IFBF’s board of directors, applauded the governor for following through on that pledge.

“I appreciate the fact that he recognizes the impact that wolves are having on us ranchers, as well as wildlife, and that he understands the importance of managing wolves,” he said.

In addition to the state funding, the wolf board also receives $110,000 a year from the state’s cattle and sheep producers as well as $110,000 from Idaho sportsmen.

Little’s budget proposal also recommends $408,000 for wolf monitoring and management. This mix of dedicated and federal funds will be used to conduct enhanced research on wolf populations and evaluate methods to effectively manage them.

During his State of the State address Jan. 6, Little spoke about the importance of improving the state’s transportation infrastructure and managing the state’s important water supplies, both issues that are important to Idaho’s farming sector.

The vast majority of agricultural products grown or produced in Idaho are exported to other states or nations and transportation plays a critical role in providing the state’s farming and ranching sector an efficient and reliable route to those markets.

“In a growing state, we must move people and products as safely and efficiently as possible,” said Little, who noted that the Association of Idaho Cities and Idaho Associated General Contractors are working on a study of Idaho’s transportation needs.

“After it’s complete, I’ll work closely with the legislature and others to formulate a sustainable funding plan,” the governor said. “In the meantime, I am recommending that we direct close to $100 million to maintain and improve the state’s highway system.”

On the issue of water, which is the lifeblood of Idaho agriculture, Little said the state needs to “approach water management with an eye for efficiency and preparation for dry years. We are doing that through aquifer recharge and other innovative approaches.”

Over the past several years, “because of forethought from the legislature, we have positioned Idaho for success by setting aside funds for water infrastructure projects,” the governor added. “We have also made investments in flood management and water quality, which is as important as water quantity.”

Little applauded passage of the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement, which will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Canada and Mexico are the top two export destinations for Idaho agricultural products and the new USMCA agreement enhances the old NAFTA agreement and includes wins for several U.S. farm sectors, including the dairy and wheat industries, which are major players in Idaho’s farm economy.

“I strongly supported the deal because it preserves and enhances critical gains made in previous trade agreements for Idaho products,” Little said. “Our farmers and agriculture industry have good reason to rejoice for this important agreement making it across the finish line.”

Little’s proposed budget also includes authority for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to use $2 million in dedicated funds toward the building of a new, $10 million agriculture lab.

The project is in the planning and design phase and construction could start as early as March and the project could be completed by next March.

The lab provides a wide array of testing and other diagnostic services for the state’s livestock and plant industries. The current lab is 50 years old and is not suitable for future retrofitting, said ISDA Chief of Operations Chanel Tewalt.

“The new lab is something we are tremendously excited about,” she said. “Agriculture is the economic engine of Idaho and the services that lab provides are very important to the industry and we’re grateful to the legislature and governor for making this investment.”

The governor’s budget proposal also recommends $35,000 in dedicated funds for an additional brand inspector in the Twin Falls area, and $95,000 for a position at the Office of Species Conservation to collaborate more closely with federal agencies on public lands issues.

It also recommends $75,000 to support the continuation of a 10-year University of Idaho study analyzing the impact that grazing has on sage grouse.