Letters from the West

Idaho Senate panel passes bill that allows county to declare federal forests a nuisance

Placer Creek runs clear through the thick national forest near Wallace.
Placer Creek runs clear through the thick national forest near Wallace.

A bill that would allow county sheriffs or county chief executives to declare federal forests with diseased timber that create a fire threat a public nuisance was approved Wednesday by a Senate panel.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee sent the bill to the floor with its support after the Idaho Freedom Foundation's Fred Birnbaum assured the panel the bill didn't give the counties any more authority than they already have.

The timber harvest in Idaho has dropped 90 percent since the 1970s, Birnbaum said and while half of the reduction may have been appropriate the federal agencies have been unable to stop 2015 from seeing 742,000 acres burn in Idaho.

"I can't see how people say we don't have a problem," Birnbaum said.

A long line of conservation and sportsmen groups said the bill undercut the 10 successful collaborative forest groups working around the state that have dramatically increased the active management and fuel treatment programs statewide. That has created hundreds of jobs and dramatically increased the timber harvest from its low in the 1990s.

The fires, they say are due to drought and a warming climate. Attorney Kahle Becker said the bill, written by out-of-state- interests encourages counties to bring lawsuits which could drag the state in and cost taxpayers millions.

"I don't think it's the Idaho way," Becker said. "It's being a bad neighbor."

A version of this blog had incorrect numbers of fire acres in the print edition.