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Sustainable Idaho: Drought and Fire Management

Marcus Kauffman

In our last episode, we learned about Idaho’s drought and how it’s affecting agriculture and wildlife. In this episode, we continued our drought discussion as we explored the topic of fire. Sarah Wheeler and Joel Gosswiller joined us from the Eastern Idaho Interagency Fire Center, or EIIFC, to help us understand what our fire season looks like in Idaho and how fires are managed.

To start us off, we asked how fire fits into the larger ecosystem functions in Idaho. As a natural part of the ecosystems in Idaho, wildfire can be very helpful and even necessary for the life cycles of certain species. But although fire can provide a host of benefits, due to the impacts of humans through climate change, both fire severity and frequency have changed. We asked Gosswiller about these changes. He stated that as fire seasons have lengthened, the number of fires has been increasing in recent years, but why? Logically, it makes sense that as Idaho’s drought worsens, the likelihood of fire spreading faster increases. But what starts fires?

Nationally, about ten percent of wildland fires are caused by natural means such as lightning while the other ninety percent are caused by humans. Wheeler highlights that the distribution of fire starts has shifted to more human starts as opposed to natural starts in Idaho. It has yet to be determined whether this is an indication of a larger shift toward predominantly human starts but the emergence of the pattern is concerning. Once a fire has started, agencies must make the choice of where to devote fire management resources.

Gosswiller spoke to the priorities of fire management. The number one priority of many agencies will be protecting infrastructure and human life. Wheeler agrees with this approach to fire management but added additional considerations. When fire moves outside of the urban wildland interface, the approach becomes more nuanced and takes into account considerations of firefighter safety and location.

While fire is a natural and important part of the landscape, recent trends show alarming increases in intensity and frequency, which prove more detrimental than beneficial. We decided to end by asking Wheeler how people can help prevent wildfires. She encouraged people to be aware of their actions in times of heightened fire risk and listed things to do to protect your home from fire.

Exacerbated by drought and global warming, fires are on the rise. Fires remain essential for various natural functions but their increasing numbers and intensity means that our management strategies have to shift accordingly. Next week, Ailie will be exploring how climate change has impacted both drought and wildfire risk in addition to the impacts of fires overall.

This was Eizaak’s final episode and he wanted to extend my gratitude to all of our listeners. Thank you all for your support.

More Information:

How to Protect Your Home From Fire

Tips for Preventing Human Caused Wildfire

Ailie Maclean was born and raised in Alaska but moved to Kimberly, Idaho right before high school. Ailie is an undergraduate Political Science and Global Studies major at ISU. She is going into her last year at ISU as Vice President of Idaho State’s student government, ASISU, and has served as an Honors Program Mentor, Communications Envoy, and ASISU Supreme Court Justice in past years. In her free time she enjoys reading, longboarding, hiking, watching anime, and swimming in unique places (Silfra in Iceland for example). Ailie plans on studying environmental, or some variation of international law, after taking a gap year to travel and work abroad.
Eizaak Jordan was born and raised in McCall, Idaho. He spent summers in Yellowpine, Idaho, near the Frank Church Wilderness Area. Eizaak's days were characterized by interacting with the natural world in both locations, curating his passion for Idaho’s ecosystems. He is currently an ISU Political Science student and President of ISU’s Sustainability Club. After graduation, he will be applying for a graduate program in environmental politics, which will hopefully open opportunities to gain full employment doing environmental advocacy. Eizaak spends his free time reading, cooking, and fly fishing.