Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will be visiting the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Friday, giving him a great opportunity to broaden his perspective on the national forests he is charged with overseeing.
Perdue recently told Congress that the trees of our national forests are “crops” that “ought to be harvested.” I hope the secretary takes the time to listen and learn how much more the national forests yield states like Idaho beyond their value for cutting.
I hope he talks to…
▪ A fisheries biologist who will explain how mountain watersheds of Idaho’s national forests provide cold, clean water for salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout – species that have declined throughout lower elevation streams.
▪ A wildlife biologist who knows that Idaho enjoys some of the longest hunting seasons in the country because of the rich habitat our forests provide. Almost every native species occur on Idaho’s national forests, including sage grouse, mule deer, pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, black bear, cougars, mountain goats and more.
▪ A recreation planner who can tell him about the tens of thousands of visitors who use our forests for camping, hiking, hunting, mountain biking, whitewater rafting every year — generating more than $6 billion in consumer spending and approximately 77,000 jobs for Idahoans.
▪ A timber planner who long ago abandoned the notion of “crops” and instead uses efforts like the Clearwater Basin Collaborative to revive timber harvests and largely put an end to the old “timber wars.”
While here, Perdue will see forests that have burned. No surprise; fire has been a part of the forests of Idaho for thousands of years. Politicians will try to convince the secretary that burned trees are a sign of management failure and that a forest burned is a forest wasted.
This is not true. Fire professionals long ago put away the notion that fire is a bad thing and that every fire needs to be fought. Today land managers deal with fire in a variety of science-based approaches. They protect private structures adjacent to national forests and encourage local communities to adopt practices to protect their homes. They use fire to revitalize overgrown, dense forests and improve wildlife habitat. Fire is just one more natural feature of our forests and should not be vilified for political deal-making.
Perdue has one of the finest collections of natural resource professionals under his jurisdiction, who go to work every day with the goal of managing our national forests far beyond a commodity, and for the greatest good of all Americans. These professionals don’t see the national forests like the politicians seem to — as payback for campaign funders. They see our national forests as diverse landscapes providing benefits for a healthy and prosperous quality of life. They see the national forests so closely woven into the fabric of a state like Idaho that we can’t imagine what living here would be like without them. I hope Perdue does, too.
Craig Gehrke is a native Idahoan and state director for The Wilderness Society.