With May’s rain, we saw our desert grow green with lush grasses and blooming brush. Now that we are sweating through triple-digit heat, the beautiful landscape is transforming into a tinder box. The 90-plus firefighters hanging out at the College of Southern Idaho waiting for a fire to flare up indicates that fire bosses know it is only a matter of time. At any moment we could find ourselves in an all too familiar situation: wildfire season.
Wildfires are exorbitantly expensive to fight. Each year the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management absorb firefighting costs in their budgets, often times depleting wildfire prevention programs. Without funds necessary to manage our forests and range lands to prevent or reduce fires, we are in a vicious cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Sen. Mike Crapo and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, are working together to change the law so we fight the biggest and most costly fires with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. Most wildfires are started by lightning strikes, which the last time we looked was still an act of nature. FEMA funding is used to clean up after hurricanes, earthquakes and the like. It should be used to fund fighting our largest fires, leaving Forest Service and BLM money focused on managing lands to reduce future fires. It reminds us of the quote from Ben Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
We were pleased this week when Crapo visited the Times-News Editorial Board and shared the bill’s progress. It is now included in an Interior Department Appropriations bill, which means it should have a hearing and vote sometime in the next few months as part of the overall bill. But there are concerns. Some are discussing adding logging provisions to the bill, muddying the waters around the real need and putting the bill at risk. We hope the entire Idaho delegation will step up to ensure this funding stays intact and becomes law.
While we know this funding will not prevent all fires from happening, it is prudent that we invest in managing our public lands so we can hunt, hike and recreate on green, tree- and grass-filled lands, not a charred and burned landscape.