Rocky Barker: On forests, Idaho's congressmen stand together

rbarker@idahostatesman.comFebruary 24, 2014 

Idaho’s congressional delegation is all Republican, but its members are often on opposite sides of major issues, including the government shutdown, funding the Idaho National Laboratory, tax reform and protecting areas such as the Boulder-White Clouds.

But last week, Idaho reporters got a rare opportunity to see all four Republicans on the same page, pushing for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson introduced in the Senate and the House. The four lawmakers all came to talk to the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership, a remarkable organization of foresters, timber industry executives, local officials, community organizers and environmentalists devoted to getting more active management done on Idaho’s national forests.

Many of these people were adversaries in the forest wars that raged throughout the West from the 1970s into the 1990s, said retired Idaho Department of Lands forester John Roberts. This new model for collaboration, not limited to Idaho, has set the Forest Service’s future path, in large part due to its embrace by Chief Tom Tidwell, who was in Boise for the partnership conference.

Several provisions in the farm bill build on this model and try to reward people who participate in these time-consuming collaboratives — not with financial reward so much as with action. All four members of Congress voted for the final version of the farm bill, even though Rep. Raul Labrador and Sens. Jim Risch and Crapo voted against the earlier version.

They supported the bill even though it had fewer cuts to food stamps, which was a major issue for the tea party conservatives. These forest provisions, along with payments to counties in lieu of taxes, changed their votes.

The four lawmakers also stand together against President Barack Obama’s possible use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to establish any national monuments in Idaho. Risch said he thinks it’s unconstitutional. Labrador has co-sponsored a bill that would limit the president’s power. Crapo said he’d have been opposed to designating the Boulder-White Clouds even if President George Bush and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne were behind it.

Rep. Mike Simpson shared their views. He said he wants Congress to protect the Boulder-White Clouds as wilderness by passing the bill he’s worked 12 years to make a reality. Of course, he’d have to get Risch back on board; Risch opposed the bill the last time Simpson tried.

And Labrador still hopes to pass his bill that would allow the state to manage large tracts of Forest Service timber lands with the proceeds going to Idaho counties, a plan that could undercut the collaboratives they all supported in Boise last week.

There are elections ahead this year for three of the four, which of course could change the delegation dynamics. Regardless, it’s too early to determine if Wednesday’s press conference is the beginning of a new trend or an isolated event.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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