Thursday, April 25, 2024

OPINION: SEN. JIM RISCH — Protecting Idaho’s forests and communities

| August 7, 2020 1:00 AM

Summers are beautiful in the Gem State. Idaho’s mountains, rivers, lakes and trails are beloved by the people who live here, as well as the millions who visit every year. From attending forestry camp in McCall as a student at the University of Idaho, to summers spent hiking through the Cabinet Mountains with my sons, I continue to be awed by the beauty and serenity of the great state that we are blessed to call home.

Idaho has 21 million acres of forestland, over three-quarters of which are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. These lands provide many benefits — fish and wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, treasured recreation and vast renewable resources. Idaho’s forests provide thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic activity, and immeasurable intrinsic value, but they also face significant risk.

Every summer, wildfires roll across western states, endangering communities and forests. Idaho’s forests evolved with wildfire, but current forest conditions are not the same as in the past. Today’s fires are no longer limited to remote, backcountry areas. Years of insufficient forest management have resulted in excess fuel and increased disease, leaving millions of acres at high risk to catastrophic wildfire.

These fires are increasingly severe, leaving economic and environmental destruction in their wake. For the many Idahoans who live and work in forest-dependent communities, a significant amount of their incomes is earned during and reliant upon the summer season. When fire comes, small business owners whose livelihoods depend on the land can’t operate, and our state’s economy and our residents’ daily lives are disrupted. As the line between communities and forests continues to blur, we must manage Idaho’s forestlands to protect our people, steward our lands and reduce the risk of wildfire.

Last month, Representative Fulcher and I introduced the Treating Tribes and Counties as Good Neighbors Act. For years, Good Neighbor Authority has enabled states to partner with the Forest Service to complete forest management and restoration projects. This bill will authorize tribes and counties to perform Good Neighbor projects and enhance the ability of all partners to prevent fires through forest restoration projects across landscapes. I also joined Senator Crapo in cosponsoring Senator Daines’ bill to reduce activist litigation against responsible forest management.

Advancing management tools is important, but to be sustainable long-term, they must be paired with conversations among diverse interests. I have proudly supported collaboration for decades. When I was governor of Idaho, we used a collaborative approach to develop the Idaho Roadless Rule, bringing the timber and conservation communities together to develop a plan to preserve and manage our forests based on Idaho’s needs, not a federal mandate. This collaborative spirit has only continued to flourish. Today, Idaho is home to many locally driven forest collaborative groups, with representatives from industry, rural communities, conservation, tribes and others. These groups resolve conflict together, finding ways to move balanced projects forward. Consensus-driven conversations like these are truly the best way to ensure the health and vitality of Idaho’s forests.

Without its rugged, forested landscapes, a fundamental piece of Idaho would be lost. To ensure we have this treasured resource into the future, we must foster both the tools and open dialogues that help to manage our lands against wildfire risk while still conserving them for future generations.

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U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, who has a degree in forestry from the University of Idaho, is a senior member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. To learn more about wildfire risk, management and fire preparedness in Idaho, visit