Oregon and Idaho Senators Join in Boise to Talk Fire

By Tom Bacon

Idaho's two Republican senators joined Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, Tuesday in Boise in an impromptu brainstorming session on how to deal with wildfires, such as the unchecked blaze now threatening a couple of Idaho resort towns.

The get-together at the National Interagency Fire Center is billed as a chance for the lawmakers to thank firefighters for their strenuous and dangerous work, and to encourage what they call "proactive" management of the vast tracts of public lands in both states.

But they may dodge an issue raised by the Pew Charitable Trusts - the question of increasing settlements in western states in areas abutting wilderness in what's called the Wildland Urban Interface.

Pew researchers reported this week that the population shift is increasing fire threats, putting more people and property in harm's way and making fire fighting more complicated and expensive. In Washington, for example, about 29 percent of private property next to public land has been developed. That works out to more than 950-thousand homes, only six percent of which are second homes, or vacation cabins.

In Idaho, the trend is much flatter. Idaho has more than 2-thousand square miles of forested private land which   borders public land, but 90 percent of it has not been developed. According to the Headquarters Economics group in Montana, Idaho has more than 30-thousand residences of which 31 percent are seasonal.

The group rates northern Idaho, not the south, where two huge fires are now raging, as having the highest risk in its wild land interface. It rates Bonner County as the fourth highest in the 11 western states for wildfire risk, and Shoshone County just behind.

Some experts are urging the federal and state governments to work on broad policy changes to slow the population shift into the interface areas, or at least make its inhabitants more responsible for their decisions. Oregon, for example, already demands debris-free property in the wild land interface areas, threatening owners with stiff fines for violations.
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