Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Department of Lands helped during wildfire

    The Idaho Department of Lands wants to provide some facts in response to your Dec. 13, 2013, editorial titled, “Shabby Extortion.”
    The IDL (a state of Idaho agency) charged federal fire managers for use of state endowment trust lands to expand the main fire camp during the Beaver Creek Fire. In your editorial, you said the “greedy, grasping and callous action of the Department of Lands” made the natural disaster a “profit center for the state.” Unlike the nearby private landowner you referenced who had the choice not to charge for similar use of his land during the fire, current law and policy doesn’t give IDL the option not to charge for formal uses of state endowment trust lands. The Idaho Constitution requires the millions of acres of state endowment trust lands in Idaho—including the Blaine County parcel that was used to expand the fire camp—be managed to generate income to support public schools and other state institutions.
    In fact, the Blaine County School District received $377,458 from endowment earnings during the 2012-2013 school year. Additionally, the neighboring private landowner in this situation was not like most private landowners in choosing to not charge a use fee. Federal fire managers commonly negotiate land-use agreements paying private landowners $300-600 per day for the use of their lands. Working with Commissioner Larry Schoen, IDL negotiated a rate of $100 per day for the parcel associated with the Beaver Creek Fire.
    A further consideration in the negotiations was that there was an individual already leasing the parcel for farming. The lessee had to be compensated for his un-harvested crop in order to accommodate the fire camp. In the end, the final cost to fire managers for use of the land was $2,910, with 70 percent of that going to the individual as compensation for having to eliminate his crop. By comparison, the total cost to fight the Beaver Creek Fire was approximately $26 million.
    Lastly, I’d like to point out that IDL provided significant support to your community during the Beaver Creek Fire. IDL advised fire managers regarding suppression activities on state and privately owned forested lands in the area, and advised and assisted your local government—including county and city fire departments and rural fire districts—in negotiating a cost-share agreement that significantly reduced their expenses to support suppression and protection activities. Through a Cooperator Agreement IDL set up, fire managers mobilized and quickly dispatched 40 structure fire engines from across southern Idaho to assist the Blaine County fire departments and districts in efficiently protecting the hundreds of structures threatened by flames.
Pat Brown
Eastern Area manager for IDL Idaho Falls


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