Last summer, I sat next to a man from Coeur d’Alene on a flight out of Boise. We could see the smoke from all the summer fires as we took off, and the air, like now, was terrible.
The man told me that he had two children with cystic fibrosis; because of the smoke-choked air in Idaho he and his family were forced to move to keep their children healthy.
Every summer, smoke from wildfires fills Idaho’s air and our lungs. The Pioneer Fire now extends from Idaho City to Lowman, and has burned over 64,000 acres of forest. This human-caused fire puts homes and firefighters at risk, and is destroying key habitat for deer, elk and other forest dwellers, not to mention the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars we taxpayers will pay for fighting fires. Earlier this year, the Table Rock and Mile Marker 14 fires destroyed key rangeland habitat in our Foothills.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Global climate change is driving longer fire seasons and hotter summers — that is a pretty big issue to fix on the state or regional level.
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However, we can change policy and behavior to limit human-caused fires in our state. For example, the Table Rock Fire was started by people shooting off fireworks into dry grass. In most other states, fireworks are illegal — why are they still legal in our state? What can we do to change that?
Right now in Eastern Idaho, there are no fire restrictions in place in our national forests, even though fires are burning in the area. Why? We need to enact earlier and more extensive fire bans on our Bureau of Land Management, state and national forestlands. Sure, everyone loves a campfire. But would you rather have a campfire or a forest?
Human-caused fires are costing all of us: We are losing our rangeland and forests, our wildlife is losing its habitat, and we are losing the healthy air and water we need to survive. Fires in Idaho are larger and more severe than they have been in at least 1,000 years and likely longer. Increasingly, human fire starts are causing the fire to extend longer in the season (into October) and are burning areas such as rangelands that might not have natural ignitions from lightning.
Let’s not lose more next fire season for preventable fires. I would like to propose a series of discussions with land managers, public health workers, the National Interagency Fire Center, researchers, government officials and the public to reduce human-fire starts in the state of Idaho. Our state is too great to go up in smoke. If you are interested in participating in this discussion, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Pierce is an associate professor in the Geosciences Department at Boise State University. She and her students have been studying fires in Idaho for over 15 years. Her research focuses on feedback among climate, fire and vegetation, as well as post-fire erosion.