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Little’s missed opportunity to school Joe Biden on forest fires in the West

Little’s missed opportunity to school Joe Biden on forest fires in the West

Fred Birnbaum
September 14, 2021
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September 14, 2021

When President Joe Biden visited the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise on Monday, he claimed climate change is driving the nation's catastrophic wildfires. 

“It’s not a Democrat thing, it’s not a Republican thing. It’s a weather thing," Biden declared. 

In reality, it’s not a climate change thing either, Mr. President. 

No, what’s leading to regular major fires on government lands and smoke-filled summers in the West is poor land management by federal government agencies under Biden’s control. 

Sadly, when Gov. Brad Little got the chance to push back against the president’s narrative, he didn’t. 

Here is what Little offered instead: “Two-thirds of Idaho is public land managed by the federal government, and it is imperative we keep lines of communication open with our federal partners – right up to the president – on ways to build a more fire resilient range and forest ecosystem.

“There is plenty I disagree with the president on right now, but today we came together to listen to one another and discuss solutions on wildfire. I spent my limited time with the president focusing on the incredible progress Idaho has made with collaborative initiatives, including the Good Neighbor Authority and Shared Stewardship. We have demonstrated that diverse interests can come together with the common goal of protecting lives and communities from wildfire, creating jobs, and improving the landscape.” 

The closest Little got to emphasizing the federal government’s dereliction of duty when it comes to federal land management was when he spoke about the U.S. Department of Justice’s role in “our ability to successfully implement meaningful practices on the landscape.” 

He said, "Just one month ago, an environmentalist group succeeded in holding up a 2,500-acre logging project in North Idaho that was part of our Good Neighbor Authority plan to make the landscape more fire resilient. We need the president’s help with minimizing unproductive lawsuits so we can get fully agreed-upon plans implemented and reduce the fuel load, and so we are not unduly endangering firefighters and our communities. We must increase the pace and scale of forest health projects now if we’re going to make progress on our national forests."

What a whimpy analysis. Here’s what Little should have said: 

“Mr. President, when you entered politics in the early 1970s, Idaho harvested about 1 billion board feet of timber on US Forest Service lands each year. When you became vice president, harvests on USFS lands in Idaho had plunged by 90% to under 100 million board feet annually. This dramatic drop reflected policy changes by the federal government pandering to radical environmentalists who flatly opposed historic timber harvesting. 

According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), fires in the West rarely consumed more than 1 million acres from the post-WWII period until the early 1980’s due to improved forest management. Now, fire seasons routinely destroy more than 8 million acres, and three fire seasons have consumed over 10 million acres since 2015. 

“Yes, the West has gotten warmer and drier, but there is a much larger issue at play, and Idahoans won’t let you dance around it. That is the dramatic decline in the volume of timber harvested in Idaho and the West that has coincided with the increase in fires. And if you believe climate change is a problem, then you would have to argue for even larger timber harvests to reduce fuel load. 

“Even today with federal partnerships, USFS in Idaho harvests are only a fraction of the nearly 1 billion board feet harvested in the 1970’s. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking to partner with the federal government on forest management, but it hasn’t worked in decades. 

“The dramatic increase in fires in the West generally follows the same trends — reduced logging equates to a larger fuel load which results in larger and hotter fires. Just a month ago, an environmentalist group succeeded in holding up a 2,500-acre logging project in North Idaho that was part of our Good Neighbor Authority plan to make the landscape more fire resilient. 

“Those who live and work in the West have been patient for too long. We need to return the land to productive use. What you’re doing is not working and it’s becoming increasingly dangerous. We demand that the federal government return to sound forest management practices or turn over these lands to us.”

Visits to Idaho by the president are rare. Gov. Little had an opportunity to speak up for Idahoans who are tired of being impacted by federal land mismanagement and to tell the president what’s really causing Western forest fires that are so damaging to our state and the entire West. 

The governor failed. 

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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