By Carl Crabtree
Dist. 7 Idaho State Senator
What to tell constituents on smokey skies?
An open letter to Regional Forester Leanne Marten, Northern Region United States Forest Service, Missoula, Montana 59804
I have been inundated with calls from my constituents relative to what can be done about the smoke in the air from forest fires. They talk of their health being compromised, and their quality of life significantly diminished. They go on to contend that this is just another in a series of many smoke-and-ash-filled summers in recent years. These citizens expect those of us in public service to provide them answers. As the leader of the largest land management organization in northern Idaho, what would you suggest I tell them?
• Should I tell them that this is the best that they can expect from the US Forest Service (USFS)? That current land management goals are being achieved, and that they should just get used to it? That the air quality disaster is simply an unfortunate side effect of a proper forest management plan? That the terrifying infernos of raging forest fire should become a way of life for Idaho’s residents?
• Should I tell them that because of regulations, red tape, and other administrative problems that, as an agency, your hands are tied? That while this smoke may create a health crisis for the elderly, those with respiratory problems, young children and others, there is simply nothing your agency can do to change this reality? That the concerns for health are somebody else’s fault and the USFS is a victim in this legal battleground?
• Should I tell them that they should pursue other means of management of federal lands, such as state ownership/management or private ownership? A number of constituents are so frustrated with this environmental disaster that they want to find a way to wrest management of forest lands from the USFS. Will you suggest this is a viable option?
• Should I tell them there is no hope to change what is going on, and they should expect the fires and the suffocating smoke to be a part of their lives indefinitely? That they may want to consider leaving the area permanently, or at least during the summer months? Should I suggest that the USFS recommends Americans with respiratory issues stay away from northern Idaho during summertime?
• Should I tell them that you and your agency realize current forest management policies have led to unintended consequences? That fuels are critically high and need to be drastically reduced, particularly in view of our drier climate? Can I give them hope that your organization will immediately begin work to revitalize and rejuvenate our forests and wildlands? That dead and dying forests are not the future of federal land management?
• Should I tell them that you are ready to sit down with stakeholders and have a roundtable discussion as to how we can move forward with fresh ideas, and the benefit of 20/20 hindsight? Is it possible that the clear evidence of failed land management decisions can be turned into an opportunity to create a new forest vision? A vision from which we can all benefit and have a new quality of life.
I would really like to know. What do you suggest I tell our neighbors?