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Secretary Jewell Announces $10M For Fire Resiliency In Idaho, 11 Other States

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Darin Oswald
/
Idaho Statesman
Secretary Sally Jewell touring the area in southwest Idaho where the Soda Fire burned in 2015. The fire was a blow to sage grouse conservation efforts.

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell announced $10 million to go toward making landscapes more resilient against wildfires across the country. It’s a continuation of a directive she made last year in Boise. She made the announcement Tuesday at the National Interagency Fire Center.

 

Earlier in her visit, Jewell toured the area burned by last year’s devastating Soda Fire. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has taken criticism from independent scientists for the way the agency is handling the recovery of land lost to the fire.

Jewell says the BLM welcomes input from the scientists, but says she’s proud of the work already being done by her employees.

“I think it’s very premature to judge the effects of what has been done here because we’re just beginning," Jewell says. "But the amount of science that’s being learned here is nothing short of incredible and I think that will help advise us for many years to come."

The 280,000 acre fire was a significant hit to critical sage grouse habitat in southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon. She says the Soda Fire is a learning exercise for her department, both in how to prevent other mega fires – and how to recover the land after they burn through.

Ten million dollars isn’t much when you compare it to how much it costs to fight wildfires. In 2015, the federal government spent more than two billion dollars to suppress fires.

But according to Jewell, the newly announced fund will go a long way to improve fire-prone landscapes, and help them bounce back. Idaho has been allocated $500,000 to tear out and manage invasive conifers – like juniper – in the southwest corner of the state.

Conifers are a threat to the greater sage grouse, which are at risk from changes to the land. Last fall, Jewell’s administration decided not to list the bird under the endangered species act. But the species continues to be the focus of legal battles and political debate.

Governor Butch Otter was not at Tuesday's announcement. After the sage grouse decision, his administration filed suit against Jewell’s department. The suit is over plans to restrict land use in critical sage grouse habitat, and how federal officials came to their decision. The lawsuit is still proceeding in federal court.

Jewell says she and Otter still have a positive working relationship – even when they aren’t on the same page.

“You take all of the information in that you can, you work effectively with a variety of different partners and at the end of the day no matter what you do you’re going to get sued. I don’t let that get to me.”

Jewell says despite the inevitable legal battles in landscape-wide conservation, she’s proud of the work done by federal and state officials in Idaho.
 

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio

 

Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.