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The InciWeb site (inciweb.nwcg.gov) lists wildfires around the country, and as of late this week it showed 27 of them – or, to be more precise, 27 groups, in Idaho. Depending on how you count the number of Idaho fires probably could be listed well into three digits.

A number of them are listed as being fires in a “complex”, the Lawyer, Clearwater, Motorway, Middle Fork and others being among those. Several national forests, maybe lacking time for listing all the bits and pieces for Inciweb, just list “miscellaneous fires,” of formally zero but almost certainly undetermined acreage.

The biggest of them, the Soda fire in southwest Idaho, was more than 30 miles from Boise but so vast that skillfully shot pictures taken from the Boise foothills showed the fire and the city in one image, as if the city was about to burn. Much of the area burned by the Soda was lightly inhabited desert country, but it did serious damage enough to farm and ranch land and livestock. Fires to the north did cause a series of residential evacuations.

So much fire is going on out there it’s evidently become hard to manage even statistically. Looking down the numbers at a glance, you could see last week wildfires in Idaho covering as much as a half-million acres. And that’s not all that has or will go up in smoke this year.

Is this Idaho’s biggest fire year?

No. Not close.

Only three years ago, 1.75 million acres burned in the state, a level we may not reach this year.

But the biggest was more than a century ago, the great fire of 1910. It was the biggest recorded burn in American history, covering several states and more than three million acres (about three times the size of fires in the comparable region this year), killing at least 86 people, and hitting notably hard in northern Idaho. At least two entire Idaho communities, Falcon and Grand Forks, were wiped from the earth by the blaze. The New York Times writer Timothy Egan devoted an excellent book in 2009 to its causes and after-effects: The Big Burn, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.

There were big aftereffects, not least at the U.S. Forest Service, whose lands were especially hard hit. Wikipedia summarizes what Egan and others have pointed out: “The Fire of 1910 cemented and shaped the U.S. Forest Service, which at the time was a newly established department on the verge of cancellation. Before the epic event, there were many debates on how to handle forest fires; whether to let them burn because they were a part of nature and were expensive to fight, or to fight them in order to protect the forests. After the devastation of the Big Blowup, it was decided that the U.S. Forest Service was to prevent and battle against every wildfire.”

Since then, debate has risen and grown about how to deal with wildfires – and if the history of recent years is a decent measure, we’re not on the declining side of them. Should they be fought with prescribed burns, a preferred approach for many professionals? Should forests be thinned through logging? Should some fires just be allowed to burn? Are there other approaches that might forestall more years like this one, or keep a future year from turning into another 1910?

After all, it could get even worse.

And will there be more emphasis in addressing these questions in the coming winter than there usually is after snow begins to fall?

If the snow begins to fall.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The East Oregonian reported yesterday on the speculation that Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) may be preparing to run for Oregon Governor.

The long time Democrat however is taking a different path. Understanding the difficulty of running as a centrist/conservative Democrat in the Oregon Democratic primary against a sitting liberal Democratic she is reportedly thinking of running as a candidate of the Independent Party of Oregon.

One meeting the East Oregonian didn’t mention in it’s list of hints that Sen. Johnson may run as an IPO candidate was an August 4th presentation to the Bend Chamber of Commerce. There, Sen. Johnson appeared on a political panel that included Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) and two leaders from the IPO, Party Secretary Sal Peralta, and Party Counsel (and Oregon Outpost Editor) Rob Harris.

For the record, Senator Johnson stole the show and thrilled the main street business audience. Her connection to small and medium size town business interests can’t be denied. While she wouldn’t stand a chance in the Democratic primary, a Betsy Johnson / Kate Brown race for Governor would give Oregon voters a real choice in November.

Much more competitive than a race between Kate Brown and a (Pierce / Alley / Wehby) perennial losing GOP candidate. In fact, in a Brown v. Johnson race, the GOP nominee would be the “spoiler”.

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Harris

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Big stories and hot topics don’t always burst on the scene in a recognized way so we’re all suddenly aware of them. Often, they creep up on us a little at a time and the “watchful” national media look right past ‘em. One such story is moving under our feet at the moment – apparently out-of-sight of that “watchful” bunch. And it scares the Hell out of me.

Two words. “Oath Keepers.” If you haven’t heard of ‘em or don’t know much about ‘em, I strongly advise you do your research and get familiar with this band of armed misfits. Because they’re here – from coast to coast.

If you believe the “official” website, they’re just former military fellas out to have a good time or – more realistically – here to see to it the federal government is kept in its place. By force. The founder has written “The greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our federal government.”

“Oath Keepers” was hatched in 2009 in Nevada as a non-profit by one Stewart Rhodes – Yale law grad, former paratrooper and former Ron Paul staffer. One of Rhodes “beliefs” is, if German soldiers and police had refused to follow orders, Hitler could’ve been stopped. Maybe. But think about that. If two groups whose sole purpose at that time was to keep the peace had REFUSED to follow orders, Hitler would have been powerless? Really? Rhodes may have gotten out of Yale law but he sure missed a few classes. Especially one about circular logic. And others on 1930’s history.

Membership is open to active and former military, Guard, police, fire fighters, other first responders, sheriffs and their staffs. In other words, anyone who wears or has worn a uniform. They’re armed to the teeth. Weapons of choice – anything semi or fully automatic. Camo outfits with military boots. Lots of patches signifying anything military. Oath Keepers is flat-out a paramilitary unit. Rhodes calls his various sub-groups “cells.”

Rhodes and his military minions have popped up all over the country recently. A few months ago, they were near Grants Pass, Oregon, to defend a miner who was in violation of several BLM regulations and at least two federal laws. With AK-47’s at the ready, they took up positions between the feds and the miners for a couple of weeks.. The feds blinked and left.

Remember ol’ Clive Bundy – Nevada public lands scofflaw and cattle-grazing welfare queen who still owes you and me over a million bucks? Oath Keepers showed up there. Armed to the teeth. BLM backed down again. Then, they traveled to Montana this month to, again, “defend” a miner near Lincoln who was in violation of federal rules. Again, feds left.

They got to Idaho this month, too. A retired Navy vet up north had been notified by the VA his medical records showed a deteriorating mental condition and he had to surrender a very large collection of guns and other weapons. Up popped Oath Keepers with their automatic firepower to get into the action. Most troubling thing here is the local sheriff sided with the Keepers against the feds. In the end, feds backed away. Seems to have been true in several other cases as well. Paperwork error was the claim.

Now, they’ve turned up in Ferguson, Missouri. To do what? Defend the cops, that’s what. Siding with the St. Louis County Sheriff who didn’t seem to mind the unrequested “assistance.”

So here’s why this group really terrifies me. Seems local law enforcement has been O.K. with these gun nuts in all these instances – and more – because none of them have been arrested or chased back under their rocks by any jurisdiction. If not welcomed with open arms by lawful authority, there’s certainly been a tacit acceptance of these militaristic civilians. Why?

The explosion of people openly carrying guns everywhere is one thing. But why are the feds and local law folk giving these guys a pass? What if one of them fires on a fed – or a crowd – for whatever reason? Who’s liable? Who goes to jail? Does anybody go to jail? What’s the difference between some local citizen with an AR-15 on the scene – who’d normally be chased away or arrested – and these Oath Keeper guys? What about some of their armament? Are private citizens supposed to have fully automatic weapons?

The Southern Poverty Law Center – watcher of all things violent, anti-Semitic and racist in this country – calls Oath Keepers “a fiercely anti-government, militaristic group.” SPLC is seldom wrong.

I’m one of those who believes our government is not responding to our needs and concerns at the moment – that billionaires have squeezed the rest of us from representation and participation – that we need to change direction, tone and a lot of elected personnel in Washington D.C.. But damned if I’ll pick up an AK-47 to prove the point. Oath Keepers should not be allowed that option, either.

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Rainey

One of the concerns voiced by many conservatives about benefits offered to low-income people is this: “But they’ll just spend it on booze and drugs and wasteful junk.” So how about this one, from a bill recently introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders: The Low Income Solar Act of 2015. The idea is to offer loans and grants to set up residential solar panels for low-income residences. Solar costs so little now that such efforts need not be expensive. And to the extent that a paid-for solar panel replaces power from a utility company, that’s a direct benefit to low-income people, one that can be spent on nothing else other than the power bill. What say you? – rs (photo/Tom Chance from Peckham)

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