OPINION: President Biden: Act now to prevent catastrophic wildfires
By Reps. Mike Simpson (ID-02), Russ Fulcher (ID-01), and Dan Newhouse (WA-04)
Washington, September 15, 2021
This piece was originally published in the Idaho Statesman.
Mr. President, on the heels of your tour of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise this week, we want to remind you of the impacts our communities have faced as a result of poor forest management. According to the Idaho Department of Lands, nearly 116,000 acres of land managed by the state burned this year, accounting for 578% of the 20-year average.
No, that isn’t a misprint: 578% of the 20-year average. And that’s just state lands.
In total, more than 300,000 acres have burned across Idaho this year alone. Lack of action from the federal government and the resulting wildfires threaten the well-being of our communities, businesses, homes, environment and the species that inhabit our federal forests and grasslands.
Year after year, we watch as devastating wildfires ravage our national forests and rangelands, but we can no longer stand idly by as the West burns. It is no longer a debate: Active forest management is the key to preventing wildfires. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to adopt the tools identified by Idaho’s land managers necessary to implement commonsense forest management reforms.
For decades, inadequate federal forest management has allowed our forests to become overgrown, disease-ridden, and vulnerable to wildfires. There are an estimated 6.3 billion dead trees standing in western forests, serving as tinderboxes threatening the very lands on which we work, live, and play. This mismanagement is derived from burdensome red tape, delayed forest management plans and the accompanying implementation, and serial litigators who get rich at the expense of our rural communities.
In 2020, 70% of the nationwide acreage burned by wildfires was on federal lands. With the U.S. Forest Service carrying out just 2% of needed fuel reduction treatments per year, this is no surprise. This year is another clear indicator — with nearly 2 million acres already burned throughout the West — that the federal government is failing our communities by implementing ineffective policies on our public lands that lead to disaster.
We understand that when we fail to control our fires, our fires control us. As members of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group that advocates for commonsense policies to restore healthy, resilient forests and prevent the catastrophic wildfires that threaten the rural communities we represent, we are working to put forth solutions that promote active management — from removing rotting or diseased timber to prescribed burns and responsible grazing.
Studies show that timber harvesting and decreasing fuel loads lessen the impact and frequency of wildfires, but in order to accomplish those projects, we must empower our local land managers to collaborate with state governments, tribes and private partners to employ real, effective techniques. Our communities understand this is critical to protecting the health of the surrounding ecosystems, habitats and the beauty of our forests.
There comes a point in time where enough is enough. Proper, scientific forest management should not be a partisan issue, and we have the tools to mitigate catastrophic wildfires that plague the West. The question is: Are we willing to use these resources, Mr. President?
While you have checked the box by meeting with various stakeholders and government officials from the West, meaningful reforms remain unseen. We hope that you will take what you learn here in Idaho and advocate for policies that promote land stewardship, provide high-paying jobs and protect our rural communities from the dangers of poor forest management. If you are unwilling to implement changes to our land management practices and utilize all available tools, your visit rings hollow.