For our 25th Anniversary show, we wanted to bring viewers up-to-speed on some of the hot-topic issues facing Idaho. So we interviewed experts on wildfires, weeds, salmon and wolves. And we also hosted a campfire discussion with six knowledgeable friends of the show, asking them to discuss what Idahoans will be facing in the next ten years.
It's now official. The 2007 wildfire season was the nation's second costliest on record. More than 1.8 billion dollars was spent fighting fires. And the state of Idaho had the most area burned of any other state in the union, almost two million acres.
"We are entering into a period where we have climate change on the large scale affecting fire weather on a local basis," said Ketchum forest ranger Kurt Nelson. "And that affects size of fires, length of fire season, and how we fight fires. We're going to have to be much smarter about it."
We'll be using our 2007 wildfire footage to create a new show that explores how climate change and where we build is definitely affecting the way we fight wildfires.
They have alien-sounding names, like leafy spurge, water milfoil, and rush skeleton weed. These noxious weeds can quickly destroy a thriving ecosystem. Invasive species may be the biggest threat we face on our public lands.
"One of the difficult things about weeds is that people don't see the change. But it's like a slow moving wildfire, a slow moving explosion," said Idaho native Dale Bosworth, the nation's fifteenth Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. "There isn't anything in the national forest that isn't affected by weeds. It costs Americans something like $135 billion a year for invasive species. That's huge."
Roger Batt is the spokesman for Idaho's Weed Awareness Campaign. "You'll see elk herds migrate to different areas because of rush skeletonweed or spotted knapweed. Noxious weeds are a very serious issue. If we did nothing for the next ten years, it would be catastrophic."
Outdoor Idaho began tracking wildlife issues in the early 1980's. And in that time two animals have dominated the discussion: salmon and wolves.
We asked biologist Burt Bowler for an update on the Snake River salmon. "Right now we're not making any major improvements in the main stem migration corridor. When the young fish start their seaward migration, they're challenged with eight reservoirs between Lewiston and Portland, Oregon. It slows their migration down, and it's more than these fish can take.
"With their perseverance and tenacity, these salmon really represent what the Northwest is all about. To make their remarkable journey from Stanley Basin to the Pacific Ocean, to the Gulf of Alaska and back, is absolutely amazing. What we're faced with is their eventual extinction. We must not lose these fish."
The controversial return of the wolf to central Idaho became a reality in 1995 and '96, with the release of 35 wolves into the Frank Church wilderness. Best estimates now put their numbers in Idaho at 800 and growing, making it a true success story for wolf advocates. But to many — especially hunters and those living in rural Idaho — spending millions to bring back an elk-eating carnivore makes no sense whatsoever. One day, after the court battles, it will be up to the state's Fish and Game Department to manage this wild animal.
Director Cal Groen believes his department is ready. "We made a commitment to the nation, a promise that we are going to manage them . . . like other wildlife, like our bears and lions and deer. There's extreme emotion right now. But if we manage them, I think the passion is going to go away, and I think things will settle down."