Fear of feds and a childhood “ick” factor kill effort for Idaho Giant Salamander

They were “ugly . . . slimy . . . creepy.” Idaho state rep. Ken Andrus-

Disappointment came this week to Ilah Hickman, an 8th-grade student in Boise, when for the fifth time, the Idaho Legislature refused to name a state amphibian.

Hickman was championing a species of large salamander, the Idaho Giant Salamander, as the first state amphibian. The plan was killed in a committee of the Idaho legislature 10-6. Opposition came entirely from Republicans who feared that calling attention to the animal would provoke efforts to protect it by the federal government, perhaps as an endangered species. Some of the support came from Republicans too.

Getting much of the media attention was Idaho state representative Ken Andrus (R-Lava Hot Springs) who said as a child he thought the salamander, which then he called a “water dog,” was ugly, slimy, and creepy. He gave no evidence if the Idaho Giant Salamander was the same kind that offended his senses back in the day.  His childhood fears have not yet evaporated. He explained to the committee, “To me, and to my fellow youth, they were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy.  And I’ve not gotten over that. And, so, to elevate them to a state symbol and status of being the state amphibian, I’m not there yet.”

Last year Hickman had greater success The bill passed the Idaho state senate with only two votes in opposition, but the Idaho House did not take up the bill.

The Idaho Giant Salamander only occurs in Idaho north of the Salmon River. Andrus, as a boy, came to dislike them in Utah. The Idaho Giant Salamander is 7 to 13 inches grown. It is a predator of small animals. It can easily break a person’s skin with its bite.



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  1. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    *eyeroll* What kind of outdoorsman or enthusiast never was curious about wildlife as a child – frogs, butterflies, plants? I remember being fascinated by these things, but never found the yellow-spotted salamander that another grade-school kid did, and it was quite beautiful! I was so envious! 🙂

  2. snaildarter Avatar

    Good thing they don’t have hellbenders in Idaho. an encounter with one might give Ken Andrus a nervous breakdown. What a wimp and what kind of message does that send to kids about science.

  3. Dominique Avatar

    What a typical small minded cowardly response. Extremely disturbing to see such intent to protect their murderous ways.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Ken Andrus is the chair of the Agricultural Affairs Committee in the Idaho House of Representatives. He is also on the Resources and Conservation committee which deals with public lands and wildlife.

    He bills himself as a cattle rancher. He is 79 years old. His ranch, not a big one ranch, is about five miles west of Lava Hot Springs.

  5. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    They were “ugly . . . slimy . . . creepy.”

    Funny, that’s what I think about politicians and lobbyists!

  6. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    That comment makes sense he is a rancher, and probably does not like wildlife period, except the kind he can shoot and kill.

  7. Richie G. Avatar
    Richie G.

    To have such creatures in your own back woods is beautiful to me ,just thought I would add that to my comments.

  8. Professor Sweat Avatar
    Professor Sweat

    I’m glad Hickman determined to come back next year with the same bill. I hope she is relentless in her quest, as ignorance makes for a formidable enemy of progress.

    This story strikes me in a somewhat personal way. Hickman reminds me of my girlfriend’s 15-year old cousin, who lives up in Athol, ID. Both seem to be highly intelligent kids that severely outclass the adults in their company.

  9. Brett Haverstick Avatar
    Brett Haverstick

    I really hope the girl continues to raise the issue with the legislature. She should create a facebook page and use social media to expose the proposal, further.

  10. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Idaho Giant Salamanders are not found in Utah. The waterdogs that Andrus was afraid of were probably Tiger Salamanders or their larva. Mating Tiger Salmanders are commonly found in beaver ponds in the spring in the Pocatello area. I collected them there when I took Herpetology from Dr. Alan Linder at ISU many years ago. Some of them may still be preserved in formaldehyde at ISU.
    I found Idaho Giant Salamanders along gravel bars in the Secesh river when working on a salmon fisheries project for the Nez Perce Tribe.
    The most common salamander found in central Idaho is the Long Toed Salamander. My students used to bring them to class when I taught biology in the Boise School System. They are small (4-6″ long), black, with a yellow stripe down their backs.
    I had two of them approach my camp fire near Stanley when I was hunting elk one fall. Salamanders were originally called “Fire Lizards” because of this attraction to camp fires.

    1. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      Thanks, LT. Any suggestions for why they are attracted to campfires?

      Short article and distribution map for this salamander:

  11. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    When I first read about this event in the Spokesman Review I was struck by the comments made. This article is not listed at that paper as a related story – at least I can’t find it. The story is essentially repeated the next day.


    1. Nancy Avatar

      Seems Idaho isn’t the only state with issues on naming an official amphibian:


      And, only roughly about a third of the states in the country, have an “official” amphibian:


  12. topher Avatar

    I remember seeing mud puppies by what seemed like the thousands up S. Fork Mink Creek when I was young and even though I still spend some time there I can’t remember the last time I saw one. It always makes me wonder what’s changed.

    1. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      Is that the Mink Creek tributary to the Selway?

      While looking for a map of the area I came across this informative article about 40 years of fire policy in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Tophers Mink Creek is near Pocatello, and is in the ick-representative’s district.

      2. Nancy Avatar

        How much damage to watersheds, head waters, creeks, streams etc. happens out there that most of us never hear about?




      3. topher Avatar

        Nice. The first picture is great.

        1. topher Avatar

          I was referring to the wildfire article. Its easy to see from above what you might never notice at ground level.

  13. Yvette Avatar

    Amphibians are indicator species that are some of the first to show signs of adverse environmental damage. I remember back in the 90’s when the buzz talk was about deformed frogs and researchers trying to pin down the causes. Amphibians are in trouble all over the planet.

    I bet this rep really is afraid of that salamander. I get mentally worn out reading about the ignorance from our politicians.

    I hope the Hickman girl stays the course.

    1. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      When I bought this property in 1988 there were many rough-skinned newts about. On occasion I would stay in one spot until I saw one crawling in the forest litter or swimming in the numerous vernal ponds. I see very few anymore and wonder what has caused the decline.

      When I lived in Moscow, Idaho I had found the r-s newt reproducing in Section-9 Pond on Moscow Mt. Ridge north of town. I told my ornithology instructor about them. He decided they were introduced and made a collection of many dozens of them which I, am sorry to say, he preserved in large jars.

  14. Logan Avatar

    What a joke.


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