In Governor Brad Little’s State of the State speech earlier this month, he highlighted the value Idahoans place on the outdoors and then made the connection to the ecological health of our lands:
“Idahoans spent more time outdoors in the past year than perhaps ever before. The outdoors offers Idaho families a sense of release and fun. To further improve our quality of life and make Idaho the place where future generations can recreate outdoors, I’m also recommending we ramp up investments to promote healthy lands and reduce wildfire risk.”
Gov. Little deserves kudos for calling attention to this matter. Wildfires do not recognize land management boundaries and an “all hands, all lands” approach is needed.
His administration has taken a leadership role in this effort by investing staff and funds into the Good Neighbor Authority, the Shared Stewardship program, and No Boundaries Forestry. Collaborative efforts are underway across the state to reduce hazardous fuels, lessen the risk of uncharacteristic wildfires, and allow wildfires to play their normal role, among other objectives.
Gov. Little also mentioned climate change and the need to address increasing wildfire risks. We join his call for action as addressing climate change is one of ICL’s main campaigns.
Climate change is ushering in a new era of megafires. Western fire seasons are now more than a month longer than historic averages. Since 1985, over half of the area burned in western wildfires is attributable to climate change and this trend is accelerating. There also has been a dramatic increase in the millions of acres burned and researchers expect that this amount will double or quadruple in the next few decades.
These extreme wildfires can lead to permanent conversion of forests to scrublands and release far more carbon than prescribed burns would.
Forest managers often just focus on “fuel” in the “fire triangle” of fuel, heat, and oxygen. Extreme fire behaviors in the West are due in large part to the presence of unnaturally high amounts of fuel stemming from decades of fire suppression. Thinning and prescribed burns, particularly around communities at risk, can help restore normal fire behavior and make forests, watersheds, and homes more resilient to wildfires.
We also need to address the “heat” component through climate action. We need to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration efforts and also need to stop stoking these fires with hotter temperatures. This means working together to reduce carbon emissions on all fronts as well as adjusting our forest and rangeland management practices to better sequester carbon. These efforts are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Dealing with climate change will be a key component of federal land management agencies in the future.
Gov. Little concluded this topic with a hopeful note:
“Idaho is actively mapping out the future of our forests, and your grandkids and mine will directly benefit from our actions today.”
Let’s partner together to restore not only our forests, but also our climate. We cannot do one without the other.