Idahoans have long expressed skepticism — if not outright disdain — for climate change science, but the Republican-dominated Legislature has taken up the liberal cause celebre by reacting to prolonged wildfire smoke.
State Rep. John Vander Woude, the Republican chairman of the state’s House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, conducted this month the panel’s first hearing on climate change. A recent study from Yale University shows that nearly 40 percent of people from Nebraska to Idaho don’t believe the climate is in flux.
“I wanted it to be specific to Idaho — not this global conversation, kind of like what they do in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Vander Woude said.
A lengthening “smoke season” now hangs over parts of the mountainous West, causing an increase in reported health afflictions. Loggers are leaving forests earlier in the winter as spring mud arrives, and Idaho’s popular ski resort Bogus Basin has opened later as rain, not snow, falls in late autumn on the peaks.
Committee members focused questions on forest fires, which they blame on regulations that limit timber harvests.
“I’m kind of fond of saying, ‘Log it, graze it or watch it burn,’” said state Rep. Laurie Lickley, a Republican rancher.
But Boise State geosciences professor Jen Pierce testified that much of Idaho’s smoke comes from outside the region and the “fire fuel” conversation misses the hotter, dryer conditions among various kinds of forests.
State Rep. Heather Scott, a Republican, noted that data suggesting ski resorts were opening later went back only two years.
“It’s pretty difficult to get research published on what’s going on in Canyon County in a peer review journal,” said Jaap Vos, bioregional planning professor at the University of Idaho, adding that the national study of ski resorts looked at only two years. “It’s a lot easier to get it published on a big national study regardless of the fact that a national study might not be as helpful as research from Canyon County.”
Committee members — 80 percent of whom are Republicans — also heard from a representative from a potato processor who worried about a carbon tax scheme and questioned climate change models.
“Models are only as good as the data you put into them,” said Alan Prouty, environment and regulatory affairs vice president for J.R. Simplot Co., a food processing firm.
Newly elected Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, turned heads in January when he announced that his administration would target climate change.
“Climate is changing; there’s no question about it,” Mr. Little told an environmental forum. “Now, reversing it is going to be a big darn job.”
No legislation emerged from the March 6 hearing, but the committee’s chairman hopes a conversation has started.
“We need more Idaho-specific studies,” Mr. Vander Woude said.
• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at email@example.com.
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