Monday, October 08, 2012

On Public Land, the Fire Still Burns

As wildfires raged across the Magic Valley this summer, not all the heat came from the flames. Some farmers and ranchers who use grazing allotments to feed livestock during the summer or own land bordering public lands felt red-hot anger and frustration. The source: federal lands policies that prevent them from crossing onto public land to help suppress wildfires. In August, Elba resident Clair Teeter arrived home to find a wall of flames 12 feet high in front of his house that spread from a wildfire on adjacent public land. He drove through the fire and with the help of local firefighters, saved his family’s home. Later that afternoon, he stood in his yard and looked over his still-smoldering farm equipment that did not escape the blaze. It was 16 years to the day after another rangeland fire had destroyed four miles of his fencing and 150 tons of hay. Teeter’s anger boiled over. “You can’t go onto public land even to save your own home,” Teeter said. “They’ll give you a ticket. Thirty years ago my grandfather would have got up and shot somebody over this.” Local firefighters take responsibility for putting out wildfires that reach private property. However, during a raging wildfire local fire crews are spread thin as they fight the blaze at multiple crossover points. Landowners sometimes watch as crops, livestock and equipment burn, because public land policies prevent them from using their own tractors or dozers to make firebreaks on public lands to prevent the blaze from encroaching on their property. Dennis Crane, farmer and commissioner for Cassia County, said the issue causes a lot of angst among landowners. “I hear about it all the time, especially when we have a fire,” Crane said. “It’s really typical for people to be angry and frustrated by the policy.” In June, the BLM sent out letters reminding ranchers about the agency’s stance. The letter cited agency concerns about private citizens fighting fires, including their lack of training, fire safety equipment and the means to communicate with agency fire crews. And there are consequences for those who disregard the BLM’s advice. Tiel-Nelson said during an incident this summer, one individual who held a grazing permit in the Jarbidge area received a warning and then a misdemeanor citation for unauthorized destruction of vegetation. Tiel-Nelson said he pleaded guilty and received a $1,250 fine. The amounts of the fines are determined on a case-by-case basis...more

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