Healthy forests to prevent wildfires in Idaho

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

As snow melts, winter turns to spring and Idaho landscapes turn from white, to green to brown, we look forward to the activities the change in seasons enable, but also must always prepare for perpetual concerns of wildfire. This includes making certain federal policies promote healthy forests to prevent wildfires in Idaho and across the West.

Throughout my time representing the interests of the great people of Idaho, I have advocated for providing land managers with resources to counter unhealthy conditions on public lands to reduce the threat of fires. This led to me helping craft the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003 that provided the U.S. Forest Service with the tools needed to do the necessary work on the ground to restore our forests to health and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire to our communities and ecosystems.

In the years since enactment of the HFRA, Congress passed additional legislation to advance forest health. This has included Farm Bill provisions, such as permanent authority for stewardship contracting, the authorization of Good Neighbor Authority that has expanded the federal government’s ability to partner with state foresters on restoration projects and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP), which has enabled the expansion of active collaborative land-use groups in Idaho. Congress also worked to ensure federal agencies can 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.

Now, as we usher in the changing seasons, we must again examine federal land management policies to make certain they best support firefighting and help improve the health of our natural resources to reduce fire risk. I am advocating for a number of legislative efforts to improve our country’s ability to prevent and respond to wildfires.

This includes remaining a strong proponent of reversing the disastrous Cottonwood decision handed down by the Ninth Circuit. This decision provides a loophole for outside groups to effectively pause forestry activity by filing a lawsuit. Passing legislation to reverse the Cottonwood decision would reduce the risk of wildfires and allow agencies to partake in important wildfire restoration activities.

I also continue to support expediting the environmental review process for projects that remove invasive species and support policies that play a vital role in maintaining the economic and environmental well-being of our region.

Prescribed fires and targeted grazing must also remain available as vital tools for mitigating wildfire risk.

Further, Congress must enact legislation I co-sponsored to reauthorize and expand the CFLRP to support collaborative and community-based forest management.

Forests, which make up 39 percent of the land in Idaho, are key to air and water quality and sustain wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. They support communities through wood and paper product jobs and recreation dollars. They are the backdrop and means for an unparalleled quality of life. Their vitality hinges on their effective management, and I will continue to work to ensure federal policy best enables the long-term health of public lands to help prevent wildfires and back those protecting our communities from wildfires.