TWIN FALLS, Idaho • Idaho’s forests could be healthier, which could have reduced this year’s wildfire season intensity, if state officials managed public lands, said Gov. C.L. “Butch”Otter.
To help prove his point, Otter is pushing a pilot project that would give the state control of 2.5 million acres of Idaho’s 20 million acres of public land. The 10-year plan would take an aggressive management position by encouraging more logging in overgrown forests and better managed grazing in grasslands.
The result, Otter said, would give a boost to state and local economies while also reducing the threat of massive wildfires that have only continued to grow over the past few years.
“I estimate that we got a big burn coming if we don’t do something,” Otter told the Times-News Thursday.
An Idaho Legislature Federal Lands Interim Committee is studying how the state could fully acquire public lands managed by the federal government.
Otter’s project diverges from House Concurrent Resolution 22 a wholesale proposal from the last legislative session that would enable Idaho to take control of land under federal control.
Otter presented the pilot project to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and to the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee of which Idaho First District Congressman Raul Labrador is a member.
The U.S. Forest Service is the largest land manager in Idaho but state and private forests provided more than 90 percent of the wood milled in the state, Otter said. Historically, timber harvests are the lowest since 1952 on Idaho federal lands despite there being at least 14 million dead trees the state’s forests.
If Idaho continues to burn larger and hotter each year, the state’s forest ecological systems will break down, Otter said. Last year’s Trinity Ridge Fire and Halstead Fire burned nearly 1 million acres and have left long-lasting damages to the area’s soil and watersheds.
So far, erosion from recent wildfires have caused mudslides that closed Idaho 55. The road has since cleared but the mud landed in spawning beds of endangered species like bull trout and salmon.
“I think we can demonstrate something in Idaho,” the governor said. “I think we can show the federal government we can do this better than what you’re doing now.”