By Steve Ackerman
I always find it ironic the argument that the best way to care for our environment is to allow the federal government to continue to manage Idaho’s land. Such supporters believe a state cannot manage the land as well as the federal government, and thus only elected officials who support this view can express concern over the environment. That is the case with Mr. Larry Kenck, Chairman of Idaho’s Democratic Party (“Our Christmas Tree Hunts Endangered,” Dec. 25, 2013).
Emotions may tug the heart strings, but facts matter when it comes to protecting the environment. In 2012, 1.7 million acres of Idaho’s land burned. Those fires emitted 12.8 million tons of pollution into the atmosphere, caused substantial damage to the watershed, and killed roughly 750,000 animals. This is a small sample of how much the federal government really cares about Idaho’s environment.
But, it gets worse. The Obama Administration reduced the number of forest acres it thinned from 1.8 million acres in 2012 to 685,000 in 2013, leading to continued worse fires in the future. Those who study the issue tell me 40-60 trees per acre is a healthy density level. But on Idaho’s federally managed land, that density level reaches several hundred or even a few thousand trees per acre. This means less water per tree and greater vulnerability to things like beetle infestation. Over time, it creates more fuel for more fires.
Since Mr. Kenck raises Idaho County, let’s take a look. Approximately 246,000 of the 1.7 million acres that burned across the state were in Idaho County. Instead of letting those excess trees sit to die and become fuel, we could have gained $329 million in state revenue from thinning just that 246,000 acres (assuming a below market rate of $300 per thousand board feet). That covers 84% of the $390 million Mr. Kenck claims we need to manage every acre of land now under federal control in Idaho.
Despite evidence of federal neglect that destroys more of our environment and undermines the health of more Idahoans, Mr. Kenck seems to believe the federal government’s control of 62% of our state is good for the environment. I guess I should not be surprised, given how well the federal government has done with managing wolves in the West, or managing healthcare nationwide.