This is a good lesson in the politics of the West.
When it comes to wildfires, some politicians use them to exploit people’s fear while pushing a special interest agenda.
But a much better approach uses common sense, hard work and honesty to address the challenges and opportunities created by this perennial force of nature.
Currently, up to 40 percent of the Forest Service budget is drained by wildfire suppression. That’s why I support common-sense bills such as the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would fund firefighting the same way the nation funds hurricane and tornado recovery. That would allow the Forest Service to use its funds for projects that benefit the land and proactively reduce the threat of wildfires.
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That’s the right way to address the issue of wildfires.
The wrong way is to politicize the issue by pushing the transfer of public lands the way Rep. Raul Labrador does with the Self-Sustained Community Lands Act, which he has introduced every year he’s been in Congress. The bill would turn the management of millions of acres of public land over to state and local politicians as a “test” to see whether the rest of our public lands should be turned over to the states.
But it’s not a test at all. Labrador’s bill conveniently passes the fire suppression bill to the feds, an arrangement that would not exist if state and local politicians seize control of our public lands. In that scenario, the federal government would have no reason to pay the costs of firefighting. Idaho would be saddled with firefighting costs, and one bad fire season would bankrupt the state. Taxes would have to be raised to make up the difference, and the land would be sold rather than risking another physical and fiscal disaster. Considering the state has already sold more than one-third of its lands, it’s not hard to imagine.
Wildfires are not a political toy. Idaho needs a representative who can roll up his sleeves and work on the ground here in Idaho to find solutions. Collaboration on public lands is hard work, but working with diverse public-land users to find common ground will benefit our state for generations.
There’s a lot to get done. Wildfires are part of the Western landscape. We need projects that make rural communities and neighborhoods more defensible. We need to encourage restoration projects that will reduce wildfire severity. We need to fund fire suppression the way we fund hurricane recovery. But we can do all this without jeopardizing the places in which Idahoans hunt, fish, hike and ride.
Hard work requires leadership, and we just aren’t getting that with Raul Labrador. This year, I’m running to give Idaho a representative who actually uses and understands our land. A representative who understands Western landscape, and the art of compromise. I look forward to serving as your congressman.
James Piotrowski is a constitutional attorney from Eagle running as a Democrat for Congress in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District.