Op Ed: Investment in Firefighting Capacity Crucial for Stopping Wildfires

Monday January 10, 2022

By: Dustin Miller, Idaho Department of Lands Director

Fire season is ever-present on Idaho’s seasonal calendar. Last summer’s fires arrived with clockwork precision.

In July, a dry thunderstorm, akin to the storm that helped ignite 1910’s Big Burn, rolled across Idaho, sparking wildfires. Some fires that may have been extinguished quickly burned unchecked because not enough firefighting resources were available.

Most experts agree extreme fire seasons are likely the new norm. Alongside this increased fire risk, Idaho is growing with more people living near and recreating on forests and rangelands. Unfortunately, with growth comes even more unwanted human-caused wildfires.

Responding quickly and extinguishing wildfires before they spread is more important than ever before.

In 2018 the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) commissioned an analysis to better understand the investment needed to modernize Idaho’s fire preparedness program. The goals: becoming more self-reliant, resilient, and able to respond to severe fire seasons more effectively. The Star Fire analysis, completed in 2020, recommended Idaho invest $2.8 million more in preparedness resources. These findings led IDL to propose additional ground resources, including additional fireline leadership, engine bosses, seasonal firefighters, and equipment.

Governor Little is leading Idaho in the right direction by recommending a 21% general fund increase for modernizing IDL’s firefighting capabilities. Coupled with recent cross-boundary initiatives to tackle much needed forest thinning on federal and private lands, investments in IDL’s firefighting program will help ensure a safer Idaho.

Consider what’s at risk if we do not increase and modernize our wildland firefighting capacity. IDL’s ability to respond quickly to wildfire on the 6.3 million acres we protect will lose ground. Significant investment in reforestation efforts could go up in smoke, and recreational access to endowment lands could be limited.

By grace and hard work by IDL’s employees, Idaho’s timber protective associations, local fire districts, our federal partners, the forest products industry and many more, we stopped 2021 from becoming the next 1910. Governor Little’s FY2023 budget recommendation for modernizing and building firefighting capacity will help us better protect Idahoans and our valuable natural resources from devastating wildfires.

(336 words)