Letters from the West

Pulaski award marks end of rancor, start of firefighting collaboration

The awarding of the Pulaski Award to two Idaho rangeland protections associations and two BLM district fire programs show how far we’ve come since the stormy firefights between Idaho and federal firefighters in 2007.

The national award given by the National Interagency Fire Center, recognizes firefighting excellence. On May the Three Creek and Saylor Creek Rangeland Fire Protection Associations and the Twin Falls and Boise District BLM fire programs, got the award essentially because of how well they are working together to respond to range fires.

In 2007 state political leaders called a press conference to beat up federal firefighters for not responding fast enough to prevent a major range fire. They thought ranchers couild help but federal officials said the ranchers needed training before they could directly fight fires.

Idaho and BLM officials got together and developed a training program for ranchers, who formed the two associations. The state helps get grants to equip them with the engines and bulldozers thery need. The BLM helps coordinate its own efforts with the associations.

“These organizations are an excellent example of state and federal agencies working together to meet the challenges on the land,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said when he presented the award. “These RFPAs are extremely effective in helping the BLM respond to fires in remote areas and better protect lives, property and resources, including critical sage-grouse habitat.”

The associations are critical to the protection of sage grouse habitat. By quick response to fire ignitions, particularly in remote areas. Many times in 2013 they worked alongside the BLM to contain fires before they became large conflagrations.

“Most importantly, everyone came home safely after each operation,” Meagan Conry, chair of the National Interagency Fire Center Governing Board said.