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Why Idaho Formed A Prescribed Fire Council

A firefighter stands next to a patch of trees in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest that are burning due to a prescribed fire.
Forest Service
Firefighters patrol containment lines on a prescribed fire in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in 2019

Idaho has joined more than 30 other states in bringing agencies together to coordinate and promote prescribed burns.

As the name suggests, prescribed burns are planned fires that can help reduce wildfire risk.

“When a wildlife comes upon an area that’s already had its vegetation reduced by prescribed fire, then there’s less for that wildfire to burn,” said Heather Heward, a senior instructor of forest, rangeland and fire sciences at the University of Idaho. She is the first head of the new Idaho Prescribed Fire Council.

The council has members from the Forest Service, BLM, Department of Lands and the Nez Perce Tribe, among other groups, and it wants to educate people about the purpose of prescribed fires.

“It feels like there's a lot of people out there wanting to use prescribed fire more, but not knowing how to do that safely and legally,” Heward said.

Indigenous communities have been using controlled burns for thousands of years to keep forests healthy. The idea began to gain more widespread acceptance among federal agencies in the last 30 or so years after about 50 years of fire suppression policies.

Some scientists say we still should be burning more acres using prescribed fires to further reduce wildfire risk, but there are also challenges to that, including public perception, regulations and resources.

The Idaho Prescribed Fire Council wants to better understand the barriers that exist to prevent increased use of prescribed burning in the state and to potentially come up with policy solutions

Heward said Idaho’s Prescribed Fire Council could eventually offer training opportunities so people can safely use prescribed burning on their own or on behalf of their organizations. Councils in other states have helped change laws that regulate prescribed burns.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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