'It can only get worse': Biden visits Boise to discuss wildfires, meets with fire officials

Air Force One in Idaho
Posted at 2:26 PM, Sep 13, 2021

BOISE, Idaho — President Joe Biden arrived in Boise on Monday to speak with federal and state agency officials about wildfires burning in the west.

Air Force One touched down just before noon and Biden was greeted by Boise Mayor Lauren McLean.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) is the nation’s support center for wildland firefighting and is based in Boise. It’s home to the national fire management programs for agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, U.S. Fire Administration and the National Weather Service. Right now, NIFC reports 80 large wildfires burning in several states and more than 23,000 wildland firefighters are working to contain those fires.

McLean gave the president a painting of the Boise Foothills before the briefing started.

Gov. Brad Little gave remarks at the briefing, thanking firefighters for working the fires early. During his remarks, he asked Biden to get the Department more involved in lawsuits involving wildfires.

“Besides you directing the forest service and BLM, the Department of Justice has a role,” said Little. Despite the work, the “cases get hung up for many minor reasons.”

Biden said he believes climate change is impacting the wildfire season. He warned the group during the briefing the county must deal with the climate crisis.

Air Force One Idaho

"No, we can't continue to try to ignore reality. Barack, President Obama used to always kid me. I say, You know, reality has a way of working its way in. Well, you know, the reality is we have a global warming problem, a serious global warming problem. And it's consequential. And what's going to happen is things aren't going to go back to what they were. It's not like you can build back to what it was before. It's not going to get any better than it is today. It only can get worse, not better."

The attendees for the discussion were:

  • Brad Little, Governor of Idaho
  • Grant Beebe, Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation, Bureau of Land Management
  • George Geissler, Washington State Forester
  • Josh Simmons, Chair of NIFC’s National Multi-Agency Coordination Group
  • Robyn Heffernan, NWS National Fire Weather Science and Dissemination Meteorologist

The roundtable discussion feed from the White House dropped out before it was over. You can watch some of the discussion here:

A large crowd showed up near the National Interagency Fire Center ahead of Biden’s arrival to express their displeasure about his six-pronged coronavirus plan, the election and other issues, according to the Associated Press. The group held signs calling Biden a tyrant and calling the coronavirus plan unconstitutional while showing their support for former President Donald Trump.

Biden Idaho protest

Local democrats decided not to gather in large crowds in person to welcome Biden, instead taking to social media with #IdahoWelcomesBiden.

Related: Biden lays out 6-pronged plan to combat COVID this fall

Little issued the following statement after his visit with Biden:

“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.

I pointed out to the President the tremendous partnership that Idaho has forged with federal land and fire management agencies, but there is another federal agency that plays a role in our ability to successfully implement meaningful practices on the landscape – the U.S. Department of Justice.

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.

I thank the President for taking the time to visit NIFC. Western governors and I look forward to continuing to work with the President and his administration on land and fire management issues facing the West, and I deeply appreciate our firefighters for their hard work and bravery during a tough fire season.”

After his stop in Boise, Biden will make stops in California and will survey wildfire damage in the Sacramento area. He'll wrap up the day in Long Beach for an event with California Governor Gavin Newsom, who faces a recall vote on Tuesday.

He will also be in Colorado on Tuesday.