Fewer acres burned under IDL protection this year | Outside

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The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) went to the last session of the Idaho Legislature with big needs: a pay raise for firefighters, hazard pay, and more firefighters. The legislature responded, funding these needs on behalf of the people of Idaho, and the governor signed the law changes.

Although IDL is not quite ready to end the fire season, the return on this investment has been encouraging.

The increased resources have allowed crews to tackle fires on the 6.3 million acres of state, private and federal lands protected by IDL much faster this year. Preliminary statistics show a drastic decrease in the number of acres burned.

As of October 1, IDL had fought 280 wildfires on land under its protection, limiting the fires to just 4,614 acres burned. This represents 97% of the 20-year average number of fires. While the number of fires is okay on average, the number of acres burned is only 19% of the 20-year average.

By comparison, as of October 1, 2021, IDL has fought 391 wildfires that have burned nearly 141,981 acres. Given the severity of the 2021 fire season, there weren’t enough firefighters to stop the blazes early.

“Last winter’s strategic investments in Idaho’s wildfire-fighting capabilities have paid off,” Governor Brad Little said. “We have helped protect our forests, our watersheds, our communities and our economy from the devastating effects of wildfires.”

“The additional resources have reduced our response time and brought us closer to capturing all fires on 10 acres or less,” said IDL Fire Bureau Chief Josh Harvey. “A good example is how our firefighters in the Hells Canyon area brought fires under control that could have easily turned into multi-million dollar incidents.”

“They caught them all on a few hundred acres,” he added. “That, to me, is very impressive.”

Investing in IDL fire management has also reduced costs for Idaho ratepayers.

The net general fund obligation as of October 1, 2022 was approximately $14.2 million. For the same period in 2021, the general fund net obligation exceeded $64 million.

“IDL’s approach to aggressively, yet safely attacking wildfires on the lands it protects is good for our communities and great for the bottom line,” Governor Little added.

Last winter’s investment in IDL’s firefighting capabilities was part of a 5-year effort to modernize IDL’s wildfire management program. This next legislative session, a request will be made to add more firefighters and engines. IDL also plans to staff an office near Idaho Falls to create additional firefighting support in eastern Idaho.

“As we continue to invest, we expect to see further improvements in the number of fires we catch on smaller acreages,” Harvey said. “Building aggressive wildfire suppression capacity is IDL’s contribution to steering Idaho in the right direction.”

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