Our national forests are at risk from beetles, wildfire — and the U.S. Congress. While forests have evolved with fire and insects, it’s not clear they’ll survive attacks from misguided politicians.
One thing about busy fire seasons is we all breathe the smoke. It’s unhealthy and miserable. But we shouldn’t let it blind us. And politicians shouldn’t use it as an excuse to sell snake oil.
We know that fire is a fact of life in Idaho. When it’s hot and dry, forests burn. It doesn’t mean we should walk away. But it also doesn’t mean we should undermine protections for clean water, wildlife and public involvement.
One measure, H.R. 2936 co-sponsored by Rep. Labrador, would reduce public involvement in projects up to 30,000 acres, would eliminate any public involvement when long-term forest management plans are developed, would interfere with citizens’ rights to petition their government, and would eliminate protections for endangered species. The bill would also abolish protections for Idaho roadless areas, established under the leadership of Sen. Jim Risch, which enjoy the support of Gov. Btuch Otter, Sen. Mike Crapo, Rep. Mike Simpson and the Idaho Legislature.
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The overly simplistic and ineffective solutions being offered by Sen. Steve Daines (“Either we manage our national forests or they will manage us,” Sept. 25) and Rep. Labrador would force the Forest Service to wear a blindfold and the public to wear a gag.
What they fail to recognize is that Idahoans are rolling up their sleeves and getting work done on the ground, without sacrificing bedrock values.
The ideas put forward by Daines or Labrador won’t actually solve the real problems facing our treasured national forests. Rather, they threaten to pull Idaho backward.
Instead, elected officials should be working to find ways to support ongoing collaborative efforts that are restoring forests, reducing fire risk, improving water quality and wildlife habitat, and enhancing public input, not eliminating it.
Here’s what we know:
▪ Our forests depend upon fires to rejuvenate wildlife forage and to regenerate themselves. Fire will always be part of Idaho.
▪ Large, intense fires aren’t entirely out of the ordinary in Idaho’s forests, but are becoming more frequent.
▪ Human ignitions and human-induced climate change are having an impact on the number of fires and the length of the fire season.
▪ A century of fire suppression has led to an increase in forest fuels in some lower-elevation dry forests.
▪ Science and practice tell us that we can’t prevent all forest fires, but we can and should focus efforts around homes and communities. We don’t know where fires will start, but we DO know where the homes are.
There is good news. Despite the rhetoric from D.C., Idahoans are finding common ground and increasing the pace of forest restoration. We’re doing this within the framework of existing laws, and importantly, with increased involvement of stakeholders.
The Idaho Conservation League is working with the timber industry, conservation interests, local counties, community leaders, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Lands, motorized recreationists and others, from Bonners Ferry to Bear Lake, and from Salmon to Emmett. As a result, projects are being developed that reduce fire risk around communities, restore wildlife habitat and water quality, and produce timber for local mills.
While finger-pointing and sound-bite silviculture might be attractive to some, the congressional proposals fall short. Instead, Congress should follow the lead of Idaho’s forest collaborative groups: Sit down at the table with all stakeholders, pay attention to the science, and find common-ground to solve the issues facing our forests. After a smoky summer, Idahoans should agree: It’s time to clear the air.
Jonathan Oppenheimer is government relations director for the Idaho Conservation League.