Hot Temperatures and Dry Conditions Put Idaho’s Forests at High Risk for Wildfires

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According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), more than 120 wildfires have already been reported in Idaho in 2021 and we are just approaching the official start of wildfire season. Fire management chief, Josh Harvey, with the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) is worried, saying “We’re definitely below our level of moisture that should be sitting in the ground right now.” Harvey noted that with Northern Idaho in a drought, the Panhandle snowpack about 60% of normal, and with the driest first half of May in history in Coeur d’Alene, the scenario is not setting up for a moderate fire season. Harvey said the next six weeks are going to be critical in terms of fire danger in Idaho’s outdoors. Almost all the current fires were human caused, he said, adding that campers, hikers and loggers must be cautious in the wilderness. Still, Harvey said the situation has looked similarly dire in past years, and rains in June and July have lowered fire risk closer to normal. That could still happen. However, local meteorologist Randy Mann has written that it’s not looking good. “As I’ve been saying for weeks, the upcoming summer of 2021 looks drier than normal across North Idaho as well as the Far West. Over the last 10 years, the summer seasons in North Idaho have been on the dry side, so I don’t see any immediate change to that pattern, despite a predicted brief period with above-normal moisture, perhaps in late May and early to mid-June.” Jim Petersen, founder and president of the Evergreen Foundation, which was established in 1986 to help advance public understanding and support for science-based forestry and forest policy, notes that it has been dry in Idaho for years. This has stressed the trees, made them more susceptible to all sorts of insect and disease. Petersen believes the lack of forest management — leaving too much dead timber and not removing diseased trees — has resulted in wildfires becoming more destructive and more frequent. Petersen is calling for a combination of thinning and prescribed burns to restore forests.

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