September 21, 2005

A PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALTHY FORESTS

Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

A PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALTHY FORESTSGuest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike CrapoWere it not for Hurricane Katrina and the Supreme Court nomination hearings, Iâ??m quite certain that the fires in Idaho this summer and fall would be making national headlines. On September 16, Idaho reported three large fires burning a total of 90,000 acres in the Payette and Sawtooth National Forests and BLM land in the Twin Falls District. Year-to-date statistics for Idaho are sobering: 954 fires have burned 437,000 acres. When I was traveling around Idaho in August, telltale haze filled the skies in virtually every part of the state. As September wanes and the flames recede from another fire season in Idaho, itâ??s important to consider the entire process--from fighting the fires to recovery and mitigation. In 2005 thus far, more 10,000 men and women have given time, sweat and muscle to the critical job of fighting wild land fires. That number does not include engine crews, airborne crews and smoke jumpers and other support personnel. We thank them for many long, hot, dry hours defending lives and property. They fight dangers that threaten their own lives, just as our soldiers do overseas; their work on the fire lines is just as important. In fact, the connection between the military and Idahoâ??s firefighters is tangible: the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) is a system which allows 3,000 gallons of retardant to be discharged in five seconds from a C-130. The flight crews who operate the aircraft and system are Air Force personnel, who have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. When wild land fires are finally extinguished, teams of specialistsâ??from fields of hydrology, geology, range management, biology, and engineering, to name a fewâ??come in to begin their valuable healing work for land, water and wildlife resources. As in years past, these recovery specialists are now fanning out in Idaho to assess damage done by this yearâ??s fires. Of particular concern is erosion and highly-flammable, low-feed-value grass growth. Critical work by scientists and engineers is successful when coupled with assistance from local volunteers who rake in mulch, plant trees and construct stream diversions. When federal and state agencies team up with those folks who are immediately affected by the devastation, our amazing natural resources have the best chance of recovery and improvement. We also look ahead as projects under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) become more widespread, and the longer-term effects of forest fire mitigation efforts result in fewer devastating fires in Idaho. In July, I wrote of ongoing HFRA projects which benefit Idahoâ??s people, land, water and wildlife. These include prescribed burns, fuels reduction work, community education, protection and recovery efforts including those utilizing students, habitat rehabilitation and improvement, formation of collaborative working groups to assess the viability and success of fire mitigation, rural fire assistance, stewardship contracts that bring together public, private, local, regional and national participants, and long-term forest management plans. The multi-faceted approach to the national problem of wild land fire brings expertise and resources from all levels of government and the private sector together for solutions, while creating vital economic opportunities at the local level. Although we are emerging from a difficult fire season this year, positive, proactive forest management is bringing safety and conservation to Idahoâ??s forests. As the cooling rain and temperatures of fall arrive, itâ??s important to utilize the federal forest management tools that are proving successful. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act incorporates many of these tools and will bring relief from the destruction and devastation of wild land fire in years to come. WORD COUNT: 586