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Idaho’s Risch co-authors bill to speed up tactics that prevent wildfires in the West

Idaho’s Risch co-authors bill to speed up tactics that prevent wildfires in the West
Posted at 3:34 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 17:35:32-04

BOISE, Idaho — This article was originally published by Nicole Blanchard in the Idaho Statesman.

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, on Thursday introduced a bill that he said will speed up wildfire prevention tactics and help mitigate large-scale wildfires across the West, according to a news release from the lawmaker’s office.

Risch joined Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, in introducing the Forest Improvements through Research and Emergency Stewardship for Health Ecosystem Development and Sustainability (FIRESHEDS) Act. The legislation was co-sponsored by Idaho’s other senator, Mike Crapo, as well as Republicans John Barrasso of Wyoming and Steve Daines of Montana.

The bill would create a joint agreement system allowing governors to request collaboration with the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior in order to spur wildfire mitigation projects on public land managed by the federal departments.

Under the legislation, the federal officials would have 90 days to work with governors to designate fireshed areas — places at risk of a wildfire — and implement mitigation techniques like fuel reduction or prescribed burning.

Prescribed fire, also called controlled burning, has long been used to reduce fuels like dead grass and trees and spur new growth that’s more resistant to future flames. However, the tactic isn’t used as widely in the West as in other regions of the U.S., and it can sometimes take months or years for a burn plan to fully come together as federal agencies weigh environmental impacts, staffing availability and weather conditions.

“The time has long passed to slowly chip away at our forest health issues and hope the problem will improve by next year,” Risch said in the news release. “Idaho is 40% forestland, the vast majority of which is managed by government entities, and decades of insufficient forest management have left millions of these acres vulnerable to the kinds of catastrophic fires that have increasingly become the norm in the West.”

The lawmakers said their bill, which has garnered support from numerous lumber and logging organizations including the Idaho Forest Group, would “expedite the environmental review process.”

It’s not yet clear if the legislation will earn support from Democrats, who lead the Senate and the House of Representatives.