Monthly Archive: September 2015

Forest Service Adds 7 Air Tankers to Firefighting Fleet

BOISE (AP) | The National Interagency Fire Center says the U.S. Forest Service has awarded three companies exclusive contracts to provide seven Next Generation Airtankers for fighting forest fires.

The center in a statement Wednesday says that doubles the number of the Next Generation Airtankers in the Forest Service fleet that can fly faster and carry more retardant than older firefighting aircraft still in use.

The agency says Neptune Aviation Services Inc. in Missoula, Montana, will supply four of the tankers.

Aero-Flite Inc. in Spokane, Washington, will supply two of the aircraft and 10 Tanker Air Carrier in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will supply one.

Forest Service officials say the agency is making progress modernizing its fleet of large air tankers.


Pocatello Woman Attacked by Black Bear

POCATELLO (AP) | A southeastern Idaho woman is recovering after being attacked by a black bear during a family hunting trip.

The Idaho State Journal reports that Holly Owens suffered a bite on her leg during the attack on Sunday.

Owens' husband, Joshua, had encountered a cub while tracking a deer he had shot. Holly Owens says she heard the mother bear galloping toward her as the couple and their three young children made their way back to their vehicle.

Owens beat the bear off with a stick and was treated and released from a hospital.

State biologists say they checked the area in Caribou County but determined the bear had left. They are monitoring the area.

Joshua Owens later returned and found the deer he had been tracking.


Boise Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Road-rage Killing

BOISE (AP) | A 37-year-old Boise man who shot and killed another man during a road rage incident has been sentenced to life in prison.

KBOI-TV reports  that Shawn Fisher received the sentence Wednesday in 4th District Court.

Fisher shot and killed 28-year-old Matthew Mohler-Kerns in February 2013.

A judge committed Fisher to a prison mental health program in October 2013 after finding he was mentally ill. He was determined to be competent to stand trial a few months later.

Fisher pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in July.


Groups Hope to Save Tree Grown from Seeds Taken on Apollo 14

BOISE (AP)• Boise, Idaho, residents are trying to save a tree that was grown from seeds taken aboard the Apollo 14 mission to the moon.

The Idaho Statesman reports the loblolly pine planted in 1977 on Lowell Elementary School’s campus is dehydrated and infected with insects.

Eagle Historical Museum curator Alana Dunn brought the tree to the school’s attention. Pattie Hennequin has a third-grader enrolled at Lowell and is now leading the effort to save the so-called moon tree.

“The tree has a special place in our history,” she said. “It’s a fascinating thing to help teach kids about space exploration and to tie in a little Idaho history.”

Astronaut Stuart Roosa included the seeds in his personal items at the request of the Forest Service, in part to test the effects of zero gravity. Roosa was a former Forest Service smoke jumper.

Most of the seeds germinated after returning from their journey in space and were distributed to schools and other entities to grow. Demand was so high the Forest Service grew more seedlings from cuttings of the trees.

Lowell got its tree because the son of then-Gov. John Evans was enrolled there.

It’s unclear where all the moon trees were planted, with many of the known trees having died off since the 70s.

Arborists with Idaho Tree Preservation in Boise are donating time to deal with the insects. The North End Neighborhood Association has agreed to pay for the 275 gallons of water the pine needs each week.

Lowell students are making a plaque for the unmarked tree, which Principal Nick Smith said was hard to identify at first.

“We had to gather cones from both trees to figure out which one was the loblolly,” he said.


Ed Foundation Plans ‘Cow P.I.E.’ Fundraiser

TWIN FALLS • Cows will be on the loose Friday for a fundraiser to support Twin Falls teachers.

The Twin Falls School District Education Foundation is holding its annual Cow P.I.E. (Partners in Education) Challenge.

Proceeds are used to award mini-grants to teachers for innovative classroom projects. The event has become a tradition during the Twin Falls versus Canyon Ridge High School varsity football game.

“It’s just a really nice community event that involves students at both high schools,” said Linda Watkins, the foundation’s executive director.

Six years ago, Watkins decided to try something different for a fundraiser. “Living in the agriculture area that we do, cow pie came to mind,” she said.

Watkins saw a similar event at a Catholic school in Montana and thought it was a clever idea.

Twin Falls and Canyon Ridge high schools will each have a decorated cow during the event. A grid will be spray-painted on the Twin Falls High football field.

Community members can buy tickets for a particular square, guessing where their school’s cow will relieve itself. The winning school’s booster club will receive $500, and other prizes will be awarded.

“It’s a little different than the ordinary golf tournament,” Watkins said. “We wanted to start a tradition for years to come that involves the students.”

Canyon Ridge opened in 2009, creating a crosstown rivalry with Twin Falls High.

Later this school year, teachers can apply for mini-grants, which will be awarded in February. Last year, the foundation awarded 35 grants totaling more than $20,000.

“The mini-grants are a great way for teachers to get additional supplies,” said district spokeswoman Eva Craner.

Past recipients have used grants for items such as new laptop computers, ukuleles for a music program and books.

To apply, teachers fill out an application on the foundation’s website addressing the educational need, impact on student achievement, and the creativity/innovation piece of their request.

Foundation board members use a rubric to assign points to each proposal.

Sometimes, teachers receive all of what they’ve requested or part of it. “They really try to cover as much need as they can,” Craner said.

During Friday’s fundraiser, there’s also a service bowl where service members — as well as veterans— are recognized.

In addition, Lithia of Twin Falls is providing two trucks attendees can fill up with canned food. The school that brings the most food will receive a prize.

Plus, the coveted spirit bell will be awarded at the end of the third quarter of the game. Judges will use a rubric to decide which school has the best spirit.

The prize: A glass-enclosed cowbell that resides in the winning school all year.

Student groups — such as cheerleaders and drumlines — from each school will face off. And FFA students help control the cows on the football field.

Participating student groups will receive a share of the money raised during the event, Watkins said.

For children 12 and younger, there’s a Frisbee toss planned on the field. Any child whose Frisbee hits a flag will receive high school gear such as t-shirts.


Irrigation, Aquaculture among Top Users of Idaho Water

BOISE (AP) • An Associated Press review shows the highest consumers of Idaho’s drinking water aren’t the people taking long showers, using their dishwasher or even those turning on their hoses for a green lawn. Instead, on a daily average, the state’s precious resource is being used the most for irrigation and aquaculture.

According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, Idaho’s top counties consuming the most drinking water are in southern Idaho, away from the state’s more populated regions and in the heart of the state’s deserts in the southern half. Top counties include Twin Falls, Jerome, Jefferson and Gooding counties.

Twin Falls County withdraws an estimated 962 million gallons a day for irrigation and 470 million gallons a day for aquaculture uses. In total, the county uses 1,461 million gallons of water. For comparison, a good-sized bathtub holds 50 gallons, and a million gallons would be 20,000 baths.

Idaho’s relatively low population and high rural makeup has meant that the state hasn’t had to build and maintain multiple large drinking water infrastructure systems. The state currently only has one such system, in Ada County, the state’s most populated county.

Yet that hasn’t meant Idaho doesn’t have a need to keep up maintaining its own drinking water system.

As a whole, Idaho trails the rest of the nation in money received from the federal government to help municipalities provide clean drinking water and sewage system. Still, the state has roughly $6 million sitting unspent after receiving around $178 million over five years from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Furthermore, the state has set aside more than a quarter of the federal funding — roughly $45 million — for projects outside of improving drinking water infrastructure. That set aside money is used to help keep track of water systems across the state, said Tim Wendland with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’re such a small state, population wise, we don’t qualify for much more than the minimum federal amount,” he said.

Those federal dollars are given to the state to give to municipalities as loans to improve its water infrastructure. But despite the state’s high irrigation and aquaculture use, the majority of projects cities and counties seek out the federal funds is typically for pipe replacement. Even in Ada County, home to the state’s lone large water system, doesn’t even ask the federal government for loans for infrastructure improvement projects.

Rather officials use commercial market rather than the feds, Wendland said.

In other areas, though, the loans are valuable for emergencies. Most recently, the city of Ketchum requested a federal loan to replace their 70-year-old redwood pipes that lined its drinking water system.


Man’s Body Found in Boise River

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Boise law enforcement officials say a man's body was found in the Boise River on Sunday.

Boise Police officials say a citizen reported the body near the dam behind the Riverwoods subdivision in Garden City around 10:50 a.m.

The Ada County Coroner's office identified the man as 20-year-old Parker Lee Hill. The cause of death has not been released.

Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower says the case is being investigated, but foul play is not being suspected.


Idaho Couple Dies Hours Apart after 55 Years Together

CALDWELL • Their family described it as the perfect ending to a 55-year love story.

On Sept. 17, Ana Maria Chavez died hand-in-hand with her husband, Domingo Chavez. The couple was in the room they shared at their son’s Caldwell home. Their hands were resting on a heart-shaped pillow.

Shortly after that, Domingo followed his wife and died on his 76th birthday.

“I never thought it would happen this way,” said Freddie Chavez, the couple’s oldest son.

Their family raised money for a service on Sept. 20 to celebrate the couple whose union brought eight children, 30 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.

Domingo and Ana Maria were rarely apart, especially in their last days. They had both been through a series of health problems and were diagnosed with dementia. On some days, Ana Maria seemed to do better than Domingo. On other days, it was the opposite, their son said.

Eventually, Ana Maria was being kept alive only by the defibrillator in her pacemaker. Domingo took a turn for the worse, and the family took him to the hospital. He was taken off life support at midnight, but stayed alive until the next day. The hospital told the family they could take him home or keep him in the hospital.

“Our decision was to bring them home so they could be together,” their granddaughter Kayla Paz said.

Because of that, the couple was able to spend their last hours side-by-side, hand-in-hand.

The couple met in Texas in 1958 and married in 1961. They moved to Idaho and worked on various farms over the years. Both retired from Roger Brothers farm, Domingo after 19 years there and Ana Maria after 14 years. They loved their children and grandchildren.

“Thanksgiving was my mom’s favorite holiday,” said Erlinda Chavez Mendoza, the couple’s youngest daughter. “She loved making food and having enough for everybody to come over and eat.”

Their grandchildren also have fond memories of the couple and recall how their grandfather would give them money on their birthdays — a dollar for each year.

“Everyone who knows my grandpa knew him as a big charmer,” said granddaughter Amanda Chavez. “He was a strong man.”

In 2011, Domingo and Ana Maria renewed their vows in Texas on their 50th wedding anniversary. Freddie Chavez and his wife, Gloria, moved his parents into their home and cared for them when their health began to deteriorate. Domingo and Ana Maria spent their days always together. They watched their favorite show, “Bonanza,” and couldn’t stand to be apart. Ana Maria couldn’t sleep unless Domingo was with her.

“She would knock on the wall and call out ‘Mingo,’” Freddie said.

Freddie began to see a change in them in the last two weeks before they died. The dementia was getting worse, and it was becoming hard.

“Dementia is one word I will hate for the rest of my life,” Freddie said. “I wouldn’t want to see anyone go through that, because they really suffer a lot.”

It was stormy the evening when the couple died. As the family prayed together, they saw what appeared to them to be two faces in the clouds. That was followed by a double rainbow. It was a moment that touched them on that difficult day and a final special memory of their beloved parents and grandparents.


Megafires Will Keep Driving up Firefighting Tab

BOISE • Dozens of fires burned unattended in North Idaho in August because there weren’t enough firefighters to go around.

The fires were burning in the backcountry, away from communities, homes and structures. More than 32,000 firefighters were fighting other, larger fires threatening communities across the Northwest, in Montana and California and the U.S. Forest Service was spending more than $240 million a week.

These unattended fires are the exception. Records show that 98 percent of all fires that start in the West are put out before they grow to 300 acres.

But the 2 percent that escape containment are increasingly likely to burn under extreme conditions on lands that are thick with fuel, accounting for 97 percent of the wildfire suppression costs and area burned. Since the early 1990s, foresters have argued that we could reduce these costs and the areas burned if we could implement a combination of mechanical thinning – logging – and prescribed burning.

But at the same time, fire managers allowed just .04 percent of national forests to burn, said a report by forest scientists published this month in Science, a peer-reviewed journal. Unattended fires like the ones that burned in North Idaho this year are the least-expensive fuel treatments available — not that managers would have left them unattended in those extreme weather conditions if they’d had enough manpower.

Still, even though some places did burn severely and will require rehabilitation to reduce erosion, much of the effect was positive, said Jay Kirchner, a Panhandle National Forest spokesman.

“We won’t know the extent until October,” Kirchner said.

The public is skeptical of letting fires burns, and there are liability issues and little management tolerance for error, the scientists noted. Part of the challenge and much of the cost is protecting the 44 million houses that lie within the wildland-urban interface vulnerable to wildfire.

If the federal government could spend half a billion annually on thinning and prescribed burning, and if state and local governments could spend the same amount on preparedness and firewise practices around homes, “we can reduce the total costs to society” of wildfires, said Christopher Topik, a former Appropriations Committee staffer who is now director of Restoring the Nation’s Forests at the Nature Conservancy.

But Can We Reduce Firefighting Costs?

Since the 1980s, the incidence of large wildfires has grown by four times and the length of fire season has risen 64 percent, the U.S. Forest Service said. The federal cost of firefighting has risen from $600 million in 1995 to a high of $3 billion in 2014. State expenditures have doubled since 1998 to $1.6 billion.

Thinning and prescribed burning have increased steadily in Idaho since 2001, but have been hindered nationwide by federal policies that require agencies to take money from other programs when the federal firefighting money is exhausted. The Forest Service shifted $250 million from other accounts — including money from hazardous fuel treatments — to pay for firefighting this year. Firefighting costs are $700 million over the appropriation.

Most scientists expect the warming trend will continue, meaning longer and more expensive fire seasons. The Forest Service, which incurs about 70 percent of all fire costs, predicts annual firefighting costs will average nearly $1.8 billion by 2026, up from an average of $1 billion in 2013.

“That’s going to overwhelm everything we’re trying to do,” said John Freemuth, a Boise State University professor specializing in public land policy.

South-central Idaho is sort of an anomaly. Most of the Payette, Boise and Salmon-Challis national forests have burned over the past 25 years, reducing built-up fuels and making the forests more resilient. Idaho also is increasing thinning and prescribed being done, from treating 30,000 acres in 2001 to more than 120,000 acres in 2013.

Increasingly this allows firefighters to herd new fires into old burns, which can reduce fire’s ferocity except under the most extreme conditions.

What About State Costs?

Idaho has 53 million acres of land in all ownerships, divided into 16 forest protective districts. Some are protected by the Forest Service and the BLM, some by the state and private protective districts with state oversight, and others by tribes. The state and the fire protective districts charge forest land owners 60 cents an acre for fire protection — and another $40 per parcel if there are structures — but set a maximum limit and let taxpayers pay costs above that.

The state and the federal districts include thousands of rural homes and subdivisions that get protection.

So when the Beaver Creek Fire burned into Hailey and the Wood River Valley in 2013, the federal government was responsible. When fires this year burned off private and state lands into Kamiah, the state was primarily responsible.

Local governments share some responsibility, but often get grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover extraordinary costs.

Overall, Idaho taxpayers face a $50 million bill for firefighting so far this year — after the federal government reimburses $17 million of the $67 million the state spent. Wildfires have burned 726,000 acres across ownerships and 69,000 acres burned within the 6.2 million acres for which the provides fire protection.

More aggressive management is often proposed as a preventive measure, with the argument that forests that are thinned more often and harvested more frequently are less subject to destructive fire. But that’s only true up to a point, new science is revealing.

Idaho forests are managed for maximum return to schools, universities and other state causes. But despite that active management, wildfire burned 27,000 acres of Idaho endowment forest and range lands and 119,000 acres of private land. On national forests, 340,000 acres burned, as did 226,000 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Clearwater Complex around Kamiah burned 47,000 state, private tribal and federal land, and cost more than $27 million to fight.

“That’s been our largest most expensive fire,” David Groeschl, Idaho State Forester, report to the state Land Board earlier this month.

Do We Need More Fire?

The Science commentary, written by Northwest forest scientists led by Forest Service research forest ecologist Malcolm North, called for more thinning, more prescribed fire and more fires being allowed to burn. Thinning and prescribed burning have widespread support; putting fires out right away remains controversial.

But all these measures face obstacles, the scientists said. And Julian Morris, vice president of research at the libertarian Reason Foundation, is doubtful such a policy can be implemented without radical reforms.

“Employees of federal agencies seek to protect their jobs,” Morris wrote. “Homeowners and business in forested areas demand ‘protection’ from fires. And environmental activists vigorously oppose a resumption of logging.”

Some are more optimistic. Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is working with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on a bill that would transform emergency funding for fire response. The bill would change the way the feds pays for firefighting — treating fires like the natural disasters they are.

The disaster money would be separated from other agency funds, and could keep money available logging, thinning and restoration. President Obama and Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson have their own versions of similar proposals.

“If we can stop fire borrowing, we can reinvigorate and strengthen our active management of our public lands that will help to stop this trend of catastrophic fire,” Crapo said.

A competing bill passed the House to end the so-called “fire borrowing,” but includes controversial provisions to reduce environmental reviews.

The new approach to paying for firefighting might have unintended consequences: Easting the restraints on rising suppression costs.

“This would mean continuous increases in fire-suppression expenditures, which would in all probability make the problem of catastrophic fires worse,” Reason’s Morris wrote.

Will Whelan, The Nature Conservancy of Idaho’s Public Affairs director, is working to get Crapo’s bill passed. It’s not within our power to stop all fire, particularly megafires. And we wouldn’t want to even if we could.

“Fire plays an important role in maintaining many forest ecosystems,” Whelan said. “But we can make a difference by active forest restoration that reduces the likelihood and the impact of megafires.”


Truck Fatally Hits Man Photographing Roadside Brush Fire

BONNER COUNTY, Idaho (AP) | Idaho police are investigating a collision that killed a man who stepped back into the highway to take photos of a brush fire.

KTVB-TV reports state police officers say 46-year-old David P. Clark stepped backward into the westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 2 in Bonner County on Sunday afternoon and was hit by a truck driven by a 47-year-old Washington woman.

Clark died at the scene.

The pickup truck driver was unhurt.