12-year-old wins support for Idaho amphibian proposal

Betsy Russell photo

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, with Ilah Hickman, 12, after Ilah persuaded the House State Affairs Committee to introduce her bill making the Idaho giant salamander the state amphibian.

February 28, 2013 - Updated: 4:51 a.m.

BOISE – An Idaho House committee was bowled over Wednesday by one of the most persuasive pitches for a bill so far this legislative session – and it came from a 12-year-old.

“Idaho is home to many amazing amphibians,” sixth-grader Ilah Hickman told the House State Affairs Committee. “One should be selected to represent our great state.” She proposed the Idaho giant salamander as Idaho’s state amphibian.

“It bears the name of Idaho, and I think that the skin on it looks like the topographical map of our Bitterroot mountain range,” Ilah told the committee. “It lives almost exclusively in Idaho.”

The youngster has been working on the proposal since she learned about state symbols in the fourth grade and was asked to write a mock letter creating a new state symbol. Ilah decided to write a real one, and has been working diligently on that ever since. Last year, she worked with then-Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, but wasn’t able to get her bill printed. This year, state Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, brought Ilah to the committee herself to make the pitch.

“I knew she could do it,” said Ward-Engelking, who taught school for 33 years. “She didn’t need me.”

Ilah told the committee, “If you’re going to vote against this proposal, I’m taking suggestions of what I can do to get more support.” She added, “I’ve polled my class and 26 out of 32 said that they would really like it.” Asked by lawmakers why some opposed it, Ilah explained to laughter that they were just busy. “They were working on their homework when I asked.”

Existing Idaho state symbols include the state flower, the syringa; the state fruit, the huckleberry; and the state insect, the monarch butterfly.

Ilah said Idaho has so many freshwater streams, lakes and ponds that it should recognize a state amphibian too.

The committee voted unanimously, and enthusiastically, to introduce the bill. State Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told Ilah that clears the way for a full hearing. “Maybe members of your class would want to come and testify,” he said.

Lori Hickman, of Boise, Ilah’s mom, said afterward that Ilah came home with the homework assignment two years ago and announced that she planned to make it into a real state symbol proposal. “She had done all this research,” her mom marveled.

The girl said the Idaho Conservation League contacted her last summer and interviewed her about her proposal, then decided to support it.

After its vote on the state symbol bill, the committee took up a proposal from the Idaho Association of Highway Districts, whose director, Stuart Davis, told the lawmakers, “I think I wanted to have her come and do this one too.”


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