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Gov. Brad Little Says He Wasn't Invited To White House Wildfire Talks

Governor Brad Little wearing a suit and tie speaks in front of a microphone inside the Idaho Capitol.
Otto Kitsinger
In this Jan. 3, 2019 file photo, Idaho Gov.-elect Brad Little answers a reporter's question at the State Capitol building in Boise, Idaho.

Governors from several western states took part in talks with the Biden administration Wednesday to collaborate on wildfire management, but there were some noticeable absences.

In public remarks before the closed-door discussions, President Joe Biden made it clear he thinks the response to wildfires has been underfunded.

“The truth is, we’re playing catch up,” Biden said. “This is an area that has been under resourced but that’s going to change if we have anything to do with it.”

He also said the issue shouldn’t be a dividing line between political parties.

“Wildfires are not a partisan phenomenon. They don’t stop at a county or a state line.”

But only eight governors of western states attended the talks – six of them Democrats – and Gov. Brad Little says he wasn’t invited.

That’s despite forecasters predicting Idaho to have one of the worst outlooks for significant wildfire potential this season.

The National Interagency Fire Center shows the risk of nearly every area of the state above normal in July. The entire state is above average risk for significant wildfires in August.

Little and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who also said he wasn’t invited, issued a joint statement saying they were “disappointed.”

In a letter sent to Biden, both men said they’re glad the issue is being raised and that the feds and states need to “actively and meaningfully manage” these lands.

“While western states will spend the coming months fighting wildfires alongside federal partners on the ground, it is critical we have a federal partner in the White House who is willing to do what needs to be done year-round to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” they wrote.

Biden said he’s temporarily boosting firefighter pay to at least $15 an hour, though he wants to make those raises permanent. He also said he wants to train the National Guard as backup firefighters, use satellite tracking to snuff out fires sooner and invest in community infrastructure to improve resilience.

There are currently 36 large, uncontained fires burning, Biden said, compared to 21 at this time last year. Nine thousand firefighters have been deployed already.

So far, only three wildfires have been reported in Idaho this year, according to a federal database. The Fritzer Fire about 20 miles west of Salmon has burned 137 acres and is 75% contained.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!

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