(Idaho Department of Lands Press Release, October 6, 2022)
Boise, ID – The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) went to the Idaho Legislature last session with big needs: increased pay for firefighters, hazard pay, and more firefighters. The legislature responded, funding those needs on behalf of the people of Idaho, and the Governor signed the changes into law.
While IDL isn’t quite ready to call the fire season over, the return on this investment has been encouraging.
The boost in resources meant crews were able to attack fires on the 6.3 million acres of state, private and federal land IDL protects much faster this year. Preliminary statistics show a drastic decrease in the number of acres burned.
As of October 1, IDL had fought 280 wildland fires on lands under its protection, holding the fires to just 4,614 acres burned. That is 97% of the 20-year average for the number of fires. While the number of fires is right on average, the number of acres burned is only 19% of the 20-year average.
For comparison, as of October 1, 2021, IDL had fought 391 wildfires that burned nearly 141,981 acres. Given the severity of the 2021 fire season, there weren’t enough firefighters to stop the fires early.
“Last winter’s strategic investments in Idaho’s wildland firefighting capabilities paid off,” said Governor Brad Little. “We helped protect our forests, watersheds, communities, and economy from the devastating effects of wildfire.”
“The additional resources reduced our response time and brought us closer to catching every fire at 10 acres or less,” said Josh Harvey, IDL Fire Bureau Chief. “A great example is how our firefighters in the Hells Canyon area contained fires that easily could have grown into multi-million dollar incidents.”
“They caught them all within a few hundred acres,” he added. “That, to me, is very impressive.”
The investment in IDL fire management has also cut costs for Idaho taxpayers.
The net obligation to the general fund on October 1, 2022, was approximately $14.2 million. For the same period in 2021 the net general fund obligation exceeded $64 million.
“IDL’s approach to aggressively, yet safely attack wildfires on the land it protects is good for our communities, and great for the bottom line,” added Governor Little.
Last winter’s investment in IDL’s firefighting capabilities was part of a 5-year effort to modernize the IDL wildfire management program. This coming 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 anticipate seeing additional improvements in the number of fires we catch at smaller acreages,” Harvey said. “Building capacity to aggressive suppress wildfires is IDL’s contribution towards leading Idaho in the right direction.”