With wildfires blazing, Idaho governor calls for action

2012-10-05 Ashley Bach

Wildfire season in Washington is stretching out longer than ever this year, and that's a big concern for state leaders. The Department of Natural Resources has extended the statewide burn ban until Oct. 15th, and the fires aren't just in Eastern Washington. The state has issued a Red Flag warning for the west side of the Cascades and among the current fires is a blaze threatening 100 homes in Mason County.

Fires are also burning in north-central Washington and fire patrols have been increased in the southwest corner of the state. DNR is hosting a workshop in Cle Elum on Saturday, Oct. 13th, for landowners looking to restore their land after the wildfires.

“We have not seen wildfire conditions this bad in October in a lifetime,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “I’m concerned that the shorter days and colder weather will lull some people into thinking it’s safe to build campfires or bonfires. We need everyone to be cautious, alert and aware of the burn restrictions.”

The conditions in the Northwest have spurred Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to pen an op-ed to state newspapers calling for more logging and grazing to make forestlands safer. 

This year will be one of Idaho’s worst fire seasons since the Panhandle’s deadly “Big Burn” of 1910. To date, 1.7 million acres have burned in Idaho during a fire season that likely will extend for several more weeks. And it’s important to remember that 93 percent of the acres burned in Idaho this year are owned and “managed” by the federal government.

The existing approach to managing these lands and the fires on them is unacceptable. Public land management and priorities have been studied and debated to death.  Federal land managers are hamstrung by laws that try to be everything to everyone on every acre.  Their path forward is being determined by environmental lawsuits and bureaucratic inertia.

With its forests under threat, Idaho must strive for active management instead of stagnation, Gov. Otter writes.

Removing fuel by logging or grazing isn’t the answer for every acre of public land, but it certainly should be considered where it’s needed.

Catastrophic wildfire is a western issue that needs western leadership to find a solution. Idaho’s congressional delegation knows the challenges federal land managers face, and Idaho wants to pave the way for change.  We have a history of working together and a desire to see public lands in Idaho managed under the principles of active stewardship. It’s the right thing to do, not only for enhanced economic opportunity but also to protect our people and property from the shortsightedness of absentee federal landlords.