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Idaho helps chart a course for the nation

Posted by Dylan Kruse on February 27, 2014

Politicians and community leaders from Idaho are taking a stand on forests and wildfire

Salmon-Idaho-600

On February 19th and 20th I was fortunate to attend the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership meeting in Boise. Like much of the western U.S., Idaho has seen conflicts over logging and endangered species listings, which has led to drastic reductions in timber harvests and economic decline across forested communities. Coupled with a century of fire suppression, past management actions, and lack of restoration, many forests in the state are now vulnerable to extreme wildfire, invasive species, and climate change.

But a shift in recent years towards collaboration has brought together industry groups, community-based organizations, local government, and conservation interests to resolve these disagreements to improve forest health and support communities and businesses. It's been a long road, and there is still a lot of work to be done, but collaboration is paying off. Projects developed in Idaho by the Forest Service with collaborative engagement have produced over 130 million board feet of timber through restoration activities on tens of thousands of acres.

With tools like Stewardship Contracting and Good Neighbor Authority, which were both authorized in the recently passed Farm Bill, collaborative groups and federal land management agencies now have more tools than ever to respond to the forest restoration needs on our public lands.

All of Idaho's federal legislators were gracious to attend the meeting and promote the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. Leadership in Oregon and Idaho are working hand in hand to fix broken budget structures so more work gets done on the ground.

In a stroke of great news, President Obama recently announced that he plans to incorporate the bill in his 2015 budget proposal. By treating wildfire like the natural disaster it is, this bill will end the troubling cycle of fire funding transfers, give federal agencies greater certainty in land management planning, and ensure that forest restoration funds are used for the purposes they were intended. It could also free up $412 million for land management agencies to fund fire prevention and hazardous fuels reduction projects, and make sure that groups like the IFRP and Idaho's forest collaboratives are given the resources they need to get ahead of the problem in the future.

Good news in politics and public lands is sometimes hard to come by, but the progress that Congress, federal agencies, and collaborative groups are making is impressive, and their perseverance is inspiring more hope and results than ever. I spent just two days in Idaho, but I saw the state come together, and watched our nation's leaders respond to their call. It's a place of tremendous promise and energy right now, and Sustainable Northwest looks forward to doing all we can to help our partners there to fulfill that promise.

Dylan Kruse is a program manager at Sustainable Northwest.