Appoint Working Group to Address Wildfire Threats
The governors of Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming agreed today to sign a memorandum of understanding within two weeks and to appoint a multi-state, multi-disciplinary working group to more effectively address wildfire suppression, prevention and rehabilitation.
Gathering at the Idaho National Guard's Gowen Field headquarters in Boise, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman met for more than two hours with Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons and Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter. Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal joined the conference via telephone.
The focus was on being more active and cooperating more closely on managing public lands within the four states in ways that reduce the risk of the kind of catastrophic wildfires charring millions of acres of rangeland and forests this summer, destroying property and endangering lives.
"We have an opportunity to declare an all-out war against cheat grass," Huntsman said. "A regional approach is necessary for the severe wildfire conditions the West is facing."
A broad-based memorandum on shared problems, opportunities and goals will be drafted cooperatively and agreed upon within two weeks. Meanwhile, the governors will appoint experts in agriculture, range management, wildlife habitat, firefighting, emergency response and other disciplines from each state to participate in a working group charged with finding more effective ways to leverage state and federal resources.
"The working group will look at not just the obstacles but the opportunities," Gibbons said. "Together we can accomplish far more than we can individually as states."
That will include engaging members of each state's congressional delegation in obtaining financial help from the federal government - the West's largest landlord and manager of most forest and rangeland acreage - to address the region's needs.
"We all want to cooperate, but there aren't any resources to share," Freudenthal said. "This whole area is fundamentally under-funded in terms of the management of lands."
The working group also will be tasked with cooperating with federal agencies on ways to enhance management flexibility on public lands, and to address such problems as a potential shortage of seeds needed for rehabilitating rangeland - especially the kind of native plant species currently required for such efforts.
Finally, the four governors agreed to launch intensive management pilot projects on burned rangeland within each state, using the best scientific information available and expertise from each state's land grant university, to demonstrate how such steps as use of grazing for fuels reduction and planting of fire-resistant and cheat grass-deterrent non-native species can help reduce wildfire threats.