BOISE -- When Governor C.L. Butch Otter met with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on Friday, Tidwell remarked at the fact that Idaho must have 14 million dead trees, which provides perfect fuel for severe wildfires.
Governor Otter and Senator Jim Risch say they have a solution -- more logging.
One of the things that always impresses me, is how good these firefighters are getting at fighting fire, said Risch. Unfortunately, they have to be. Because, these fires are getting worse every year.
Although, we're not close to the nearly three million acres burned in Idaho in 2006 and 2007, Idaho has seen more than two million acres burned in 2012 and 2013. And, we're still in the middle of this fire season.
We're going to have to do better at controlling the actual fuel loads that are there, said Risch.
And that could come through logging. According to Risch, in 1975, there were 43 Idaho lumber mills operating south of the Salmon River. Today, there are three. You can't take 40 mills out of the mix, that are taking fuel, also known as timber, out of the woods, and expect you're going to be removing fuel. It just doesn't work.
In Idaho, there's a much higher percentage of state-managed land that's logged, when compared to the 33-million acres managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. But, conservationists don't like the idea of much more logging, saying that it could damage wildlife habitat, and limit recreation opportunities.
But, Governor Otter believes massive wildfires do more damage to the environment and Idaho than logging. [Consider] the destruction of the watershed itself, the habitats, the obvious threats to human life and property.
So, what's the answer?
Both sides seem to say, 'collaboration.' Otter and Idaho's Congressional delegation have worked with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on collborative projects, where Idaho will help manage certain parts of national forest land, with federal money. A couple of those collaborative projects are the Weiser-Little Salmon Headwaters Project and the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative. The intent is to reduce wildfires, improve wildlife habitat, and increase logging.