Idaho must read the smoke signals. Their message is clear. Idaho has to up its game and prepare to fight bigger and hotter wildfires that could flare up in many places at once.
Last week, the smoke that has blanketed the state this summer got the attention of the Idaho Land Board, whose members include every major elected official in the executive branch. With the exception of Idaho Gov. Brad Little, who proposes the state budget each year, the Land Board voted to ask the Legislature to fund 10 more engine captains, hazard duty pay and funding for seasonal firefighters in the 2023 budget.
The Idaho Department of Lands controls 2.5 million acres of state endowment trust lands spread throughout Idaho. The total is comparable to the size of the entire Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest in the lower 48 states.
The lands are managed to generate revenue for Idaho’s public schools. They are leased for grazing, timber and various commercial operations.
The ongoing drought has made the state a tinderbox, and state lands have not been spared. IDL officials said that these lands have seen 288 fires so far this year, which they characterized as “trying.”
Without better wildfire protection, flames will consume more than grasses and timber. A big hunk of funding for Idaho schools will go up in smoke as well.
The state’s coffers are healthy. It must step up and invest the money necessary to protect assets that support schools.
The Legislature should not dither or stint on what’s needed to quell the flames.
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