August 20, 2018

Weekly Column: Thank You, Firefighters

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Many have seen pictures of the flames that threatened Dubois.  Heroic efforts saved the town from the Grassy Ridge Fire that has burned thousands of acres.  Firefighters lined the perimeter and actively stopped the fire line just two miles outside of town, as the town was evacuated and neighbors worked together to move cattle and help build fire breaks.  This is a recent example of the countless times the great people of Idaho have stepped in to help others.  And, it reminds us of the courageous and skilled work of firefighters who are risking so much to keep communities safe in many part of our country this fire season.  Thank you, firefighters, for all you do to protect Idahoans.  Work continues in Congress to ensure the resources are in place to support firefighting and help improve the health of our natural resources to reduce fire risk.

Wildfires threaten communities, homes and lives throughout our state, and many areas of our nation have been hard hit this year.  Colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle and I have been working to ensure that federal policy effectively supports fire suppression and helps improve the health of public lands.  More than 60 percent of Idaho is federal lands, including lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service and the military.  We must keep these lands in the best condition possible so they remain the asset they are, instead of an increasing hazard.

In the coming years, federal agencies will be able to respond to wildfires as they would other natural disasters through a bipartisan law I worked with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to enact to end fire borrowing.  Unlike responding to other natural disasters, federal agencies like the USFS and BLM often find the actual expenditures for fighting wildfires far exceed estimates, which has resulted in the diversion of funds from important forest health projects that help prevent fires.  Thanks to this new law, cash-strapped agencies will have access to the resources necessary to keep forests healthy, protect watersheds and reduce catastrophic wildfire.

Work also continues in Congress to enact a Farm Bill that includes programs that support the conservation, restoration and renewable energy development of forest lands.  Bipartisan legislation I introduced with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) was included in the Senate-passed 2018 Farm Bill that would reauthorize and expand the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP).  The CFLRP backs collaborative, community-based forest management projects, including active collaborative land-use efforts in Idaho, and has a track record of improving forest health, reducing wildfire risk and supporting resilient, rural economies.  The Forestry Title of the bill includes a number of other provisions intended to improve forest health.  This includes expanded Good Neighbor Authority, which broadened the federal government’s ability to partner with state foresters on restoration projects, including bark beetle treatments, across state-federal boundaries; and programs to assist foresters with carrying out hazardous fuel reduction projects on federal, non-federal and cross-boundary landscapes.  The details of the final Farm Bill are being worked out by a Senate and House conference before final enactment.  

I have advocated for providing land managers with more tools to counter unhealthy conditions on public lands to reduce the threat of fires.  I helped craft the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, and since supported needed improvements and related legislation, to expedite forest management decisions to enable fuels reduction and promote landscape-wide forest restoration projects.  I remain committed to ensuring the long-term health of public lands to help prevent wildfires and back those protecting our communities from wildfires.

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