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Idaho Department of Lands will ask legislature for more fire suppression and preparation money

Smoke covers a valley as a fire burns on a mountain in the distance
Idaho Department of Lands Facebook

After a historic fire season, the Idaho Department of Lands is preparing to ask the state legislature for more money.

It cost about $75 million to fight fires on IDL lands this year. The state is on the hook for about 90% of that. It’s the highest total since 2015 due to significant fire activity, especially in North Idaho.

“In July, we saw historically unprecedented fire conditions around the state where we met or exceeded nearly every metric available related to fire danger and potential for significant fire spread,” IDL Director Dustin Miller said during a presentation to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Miller said the acreage burned on IDL-protected lands this year was more than 500% of the 20-year average.

IDL presented a budget preview for the next fiscal year with a nearly 29% – or roughly $2 million – increase from the general fund.

The request for more money is based in part on two recent analyses completed for the state that showed the department needed to dedicate an additional approximately $2.88 million toward on-the-ground fire suppression resources.

“What this really is doing is, in large part, catching us up based on what the analysis has shown where we are behind – in personnel, in fireline leadership, those types of qualified positions,” Miller said.

The increase includes funds to hire more firefighting personnel, to pay firefighters a $15-dollar-an-hour starting wage and to set up a new fire district in Eastern Idaho.

Miller said the growing Idaho population is also a factor in the suppression costs, as it means more human-caused fire starts and more people living in the wildland-urban interface.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.