Idaho's governor warns of once-in-a-century fires without state control of federal timberland; environmentalists push instead for cooperative control with industry groups, Forest Service

LOS ANGELES , February 29, 2012 () –

State control of U.S. federal forests was pushed as an issue Tuesday as Idaho's governor told members of Congress of the looming threat of devastation by wildfires, while Republican candidates increasingly urge a transfer of forest stewardship, the Idaho Statesman reported Feb. 29.

Reduction in large fires, better forest health and increased revenues to states would follow transfer out of federal control, said the political leaders.

Industry members and environmentalists did not support the idea of a switch and cited recent U.S. Forest Service movement toward thinning for forest health and increased stakeholder cooperation, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, supporting state control, told Republican members of the Congressional Western Congress on Tuesday that the amount of dead material in timberland means a 100-year “devastating” wildfire is coming in the forests of North Idaho.

Otter said the federal government owns 63% of all land in Idaho and manages nearly three-quarters of the forests, adding that leads to unfair treatment of the state, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Caucus member, Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, said he is working to pass a measure to allow Idaho to take over management of federal timberlands.

Republican candidates Rick Santorum and Ron Paul proposed sale of transfer of national forests or other public land to private interests or to states. Rival Mitt Romney proposed that states manage national forests to increase revenues.

Meanwhile, environmentalist groups criticized the idea of a switch, calling it anti-federal “theater.” Cooperative forest management, involving the federal government, timber industry, environmentalists, regional officials and others, works better, said Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson, the Idaho Statesman reported.

The Forest Service is acknowledging the value of targeted logging, especially near developed areas, said Bill Higgins, resource manager of the Idaho Forest Group. The Grangeville, Idaho-based firm is one of the state's larger timber companies.

The primary source of this article is the Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho, on Feb. 29, 2012.

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