Letters From the West

Idaho’s delegation stands together in rare joint appearance

Idaho's congressional delegation listens to Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell, speak at the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership Conference, from left Rep, Raul Labrador, Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Jim Risch and Sen. Mike Crapo. (Rocky Barker/Idaho Statesman)

Idaho’s congressional delegation listens to Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell, speak at the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership Conference, from left Rep, Raul Labrador, Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Jim Risch and Sen. Mike Crapo. (Rocky Barker/Idaho Statesman)

Idaho’s congressional delegation is all Republican but they have often been on opposite sides of some issues ranging from the government shutdown, funding the Idaho National Laboratory, how to get to tax reform and protection of areas like the Boulder-White Clouds.

But Wednesday Idaho reporters got a rare opportunity to see the four Republicans all on the same page, pushing for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which both Sen. Mike Crapo and Mike Simpson introduced in the Senate and the House. The four all came to talk to the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership, a remarkable organization of foresters, timber industry executives, local officials, community organizers and environmentalists devoted to get more active management done on Idaho’s national forests.

Many of these people were adversaries in the forest wars that have raged throughout the west beginning in the 1970s and running into the 1990s, said retired Idaho Department of Lands forester John Roberts. This model of collaboration, not limited to Idaho, has set the path for the Forest Service for the future, largely due to its embrace by Chief Tom Tidwell.

Several provisions in the Farm Bill build on this model and try to reward people who participate in these time-consuming collaboratives, not with financial reward so much as action. All four of Idaho’s delegation voted for the final version of the farm bill even though Rep. Raul Labrador, Sen. Jim Risch and Sen. Mike Crapo voted against the earlier version.

They supported the bill even though it had fewer cuts to food stamps, which was a major issue for the tea party conservatives.

The four congressmen also stand together against President Barack Obama using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish any national monuments in Idaho. Risch said he thinks it’s unconstitutional. Labrador has co-sponsored a bill that would limit the president’s power under the act and Crapo said even if President George Bush had designated the Boulder-White Clouds he would have opposed it.

Rep. Mike Simpson shared their views and said he wants Congress to protect the Boulder-White Clouds as wilderness by passing the bill he’s worked 12 years to make a reality. Of course, then he’d have to get Risch back on board, who opposed the bill the last time Simpson tried.

And Labrador still hopes to pass his bill that would allow the state to manage large tracts of Forest Service timber lands with the proceeds going to Idaho counties, which would undercut the collaboratives they all supported.

So it’s too early to determine if Wednesday’s press conference is the beginning of a new trend or an isolated event. Then of course there are elections ahead.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West