President Joe Biden steps off of Air Force One at the Boise Airport on Monday morning. Biden visited the National Interagency Fire Center to learn more about wildfires in the West. (Jim Max/For the Idaho Capital Sun)
During his first presidential visit to Idaho, President Joe Biden on Monday said the drastic consequences of climate change have created a need for additional investments in disaster relief and support for wildland firefighters and programs.
“We can’t continue to try to ignore reality,” Biden said during a meeting at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise that was partially streamed online.
“The reality is we have a global warming problem, a serious global warming problem and it’s consequential and what’s going to happen is things aren’t going to go back to where they were,” Biden added. “It’s not like you could go back to what it was before. It’s not going to get any better than it is today. It only can get worse, not better. It’s not like we’re not going to have more problems. But we can do this, in my view.”
Biden met with Gov. Brad Little and federal and state fire agency officials at the National Interagency Fire Center, which is located adjacent to the Boise Airport.
“I’m here to hear what is on your mind and what more that I should be doing, my administration should be doing, to try to help,” Biden said during the meeting with fire officials.
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The White House streamed about 30 minutes of live video footage during Biden’s visit at the fire center, including remarks from Biden and Little.
Biden hosted a meeting of Western governors June 30 to discuss wildfires, but he did not invite Little.
Little released a statement about his meeting with Biden.
“Two-thirds of Idaho is public land managed by the federal government, and it is imperative we keep lines of communication open with our federal partners – right up to the President – on ways to build a more fire resilient range and forest ecosystem,” Little said in a written statement. “There is plenty I disagree with the President on right now, but today we came together to listen to one another and discuss solutions on wildfire. I spent my limited time with the President focusing on the incredible progress Idaho has made with collaborative initiatives, including the Good Neighbor Authority and Shared Stewardship. We have demonstrated that diverse interests can come together with the common goal of protecting lives and communities from wildfire, creating jobs, and improving the landscape.”
On Monday, Biden said we need to do more for hotshots and wildland fire crews. Biden said he doesn’t want to attend any more memorial services like the one he did in 2013, as vice president, for 19 hotshot firefighters who died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona.
Biden directed his administration to pay bonuses and incentives to ensure all federal firefighters are making at least $15 per hour.
“We owe you more than just our thanks; we owe you what you need to deal with these problems,” Biden said.
Biden also touted his proposed $7 trillion “Build Back Better” infrastructure and COVID-19 relief plan and investments in resilience that he said would pay off in the future. Biden said extreme weather, including fires, hurricanes and floods, costs the U.S. $99 billion last year.
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Boise Mayor Lauren McLean also met with Biden during Monday’s visit. Shortly before the president’s arrival, McLean tweeted she was looking forward to sharing her vision of Boise, including the climate action roadmap.
The last sitting president to visit Boise was former President Barack Obama, who spoke at Boise State University in January 2015. Biden visited Boise for a private fundraiser as a presidential candidate in August 2019.
National Interagency Fire serves as headquarters for wildfire management from Boise
Extreme heat and drought throughout much of the West have created above average risk for large wildfires most of the summer. This fire season, more than 5.4 million acres have burned in 44,000 wildfires, the National Interagency Fire Center tweeted during Biden’s visit.
National Interagency Fire Center is essentially the national headquarters for wildfire management. It sits on 55 acres and nine agencies with wildland fire protection programs are based at the center.
Biden is the first president to visit the National Interagency Fire Center in its 50-year history, said Grant Beebe, the Bureau of Land Management’s assistant director for fire and aviation.
“It’s quite an honor,” Beebe said.
Biden’s visit to Boise lasted about two hours. The Associated Press and other local news organizations reported that hundreds of Biden’s opponents gathered near the Boise Airport to protest his visit and policies. Many held signs protesting Biden’s recent announcement that federal workers and residents working for private companies with 100 employees will face vaccine mandates or testing once a week to bring coronavirus cases under control in the U.S.
Biden was scheduled to leave Boise shortly before 2 p.m. Monday and travel to Mather, California, to receive an aerial tour of damage from the Candor Fire in El Dorado County, according to reports from the White House press pool.
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