By Senator Mike Crapo
First and foremost, I applaud the heroism and bravery of firefighters everywhere. These amazing individuals willingly risk life and limb to protect life, land and property. They deserve the highest commendation for their backbreaking efforts.
There is something to be said for a bird's-eye view, especially from the helicopter in which I rode on July 30 over the Murphy Complex Fire. From horizon to horizon, mile after mile was burned black; charred remains of trees and bushes testaments to a perfect deadly storm of weather conditions, drought, land management practices, certain fire fighting procedures and litigation. While much of this is Mother Nature at work, there is great irony in the human element; namely, that land and life were victimized by regulations and lawsuits purported to protect them. We must find a more common sense and flexible approach to conservation that protects land, wildlife, residents and property rather than making all more vulnerable to disaster.
While firefighters bravely fought the largest wildfire in the nation, the now well-documented threat to residents of the Duck Valley Reservation was unfolding rapidly. Because their electricity supply was burned, water, ice and food became immediately necessary. With no air conditioning in the triple-digit heat, many elderly and infirm were faced with life-threatening conditions. It's said that in times like these, people rise to the occasion to help. They did. Many state and federal agencies, private organizations, individuals and several other Indian tribes worked to provide emergency water, ice and food supplies. For example, New Life Ministries, Inc., collected and delivered pallets of ice and water, batteries and food. Raft River Electric and Idaho Power Company mounted a massive effort to restore service while providing several temporary generators to solve immediate electrical needs. Owyhee County, Idaho and Elko County, Nevada were vital to the effort.
There can be a silver lining in an otherwise black and smoky cloud. We all have a responsibility to analyze what happened and learn from this experience. In both the Duck Valley crisis and the Murphy Complex Fire itself, there were successes as well as some failures. In the case of the Duck Valley response, everyone involved deserves much credit for the fact that no lives were lost because of the loss of electricity, particularly in extreme conditions. Yet, everyone can think of ways to streamline procedures. The same thing should happen with regard to the Murphy Complex Fire itself. There is nothing we can do about Mother Nature, but we can use this experience to fine-tune fire prevention, response, management and recovery. Many good ideas are already coming from many different perspectives. Examples include properly empowering ranchers to assist in fire fighting efforts and timing grazing differently on certain allotments to reduce fuel loads. As always, more information and better awareness on the part of decision-makers result in better outcomes. It's clear to me that more flexibility will improve the situation considerably. I will work with affected parties to achieve the flexibility we need.
Additionally, I joined with the rest of the Idaho Delegation in sending letters to the Secretary of Agriculture and Interior,urging ongoing discussions to help protect lives, while facilitating economic, species and resource recovery.
In the aftermath of the Murphy Complex Fire and thousands of other major wildfires raging across the West this year, Congress will need to face realities of effective land management. It must fix past mistakes, and do better for those who live and work on this vast natural resource that is our Western lands. It is the very least we can do for those whose backyards now lie black and silent.
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