Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Last year, more than 1,000 wildland fires burned more than 1.6 million acres in Idaho alone. A significant fire threat is expected again this year. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) Predictive Servicesunit is forecasting "above normal potential for significant fire activity" in portions of Idaho. Southern and central Idaho are dry with substantial forest and rangeland fuel loads. As we prepare for another potentially difficult fire year, taking steps to better ensure the safety of our communities is important.
A number of resources are available that provide recommendations of ways homeowners can increase the chances of homes surviving a wildfire. For example, NIFC includes the following in its website recommendations of "Things You Can Do Today" to maintain a survivable space. These recommendations include regularly removing pine needles, leaves and other flammable materials from roofs and gutters; spacing landscape vegetation so that fire cannot be carried to the structure or surrounding vegetation; removing branches from trees to a height of 15 feet; maintaining a fuel break around all structures; storing gasoline, propane tanks and combustibles, such as firewood, away from occupied buildings; having a garden hose and fire tools, including a shovel and ladder, ready for use; and more.
While landowners have a role in improving defensible space around homes, the principal part of decreasing wildfire threat is improving the management of federal lands to reduce fuel loads. Those with homes that border federal land that lacks effective management may find it difficult to create defensible space when the federal land they neighbor is overstocked with dead and dying trees. I have helped enact legislation that provides land managers with more tools to counter unhealthy conditions in our nation's forests and other lands to reduce the fire threat. However, much more needs to be done to improve the conditions on federal lands to reduce the threat of large-scale wildfires. For example, I recently joined a bipartisan group of senators, including Senator Jim Risch, in urging President Obama not to reduce timber sales on Forest Service lands, as he called for in his 2014 budget. We stressed the serious consequences reductions could have on communities across the nation and the need for increased timber harvests to help mitigate raging wildfires and help create jobs in our forests.
Wildland firefighters, response coordinators, local governments, fire departments and law enforcement work hard to protect us from devastating fires. These remarkable individuals often work around-the-clock to keep our communities and loved ones safe. We can help improve the conditions they face. Effective land management, improving the safety of our homes and reducing fuel loads are essential steps in helping to reduce the threat of large-scale wildfires and the safety of our communities.
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