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FEATURED PROFESSIONAL: Mary Anderson, Smoke Management Program Coordinator

Open Burning in Idaho

The issue of open burning slash and other woody debris throughout Idaho is deeply rooted in our state.  Most people are rightfully concerned about protecting their forested lands from disease and other problems associated with slash and undergrowth.

The benefits of burning under controlled conditions to provide access to forests, lessen fire danger, and improve wildlife habitat are undisputed.  However, improperly managed burns can create excessive smoke and are more likely to impact communities and adversely affect the heath of many individuals of Idaho.  Since many open burning practitioners are focused on fire safety (and rightly so), they don’t realize there are other rules that are intended to protect public health along with forest health.

Smoke generated by open burning is comprised primarily of small particles and gases.  Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, stinging eyes or a runny nose.  Inhaling smoke may worsen the symptoms of those with heart conditions. Certain populations such as small children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with asthma or other respiratory ailments are much more susceptible to these health impacts and are more likely to experience more serious long-term effects.

Open burning in Idaho is regulated by state law and rules, tribal code, and local ordinances.  The state law and rules apply to all lands other than the five Indian Reservations in Idaho.   The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) administers rules designed to allow open burning while protecting air quality and limiting smoke impacts on the public.  Sections 600 – 623 of the Rules for the Control of Air Pollution in Idaho describe the state’s regulatory limitations on open burning, under the jurisdiction of DEQ.

Slash burning begins in earnest on or about October 20 each year.  Many large timber holding companies and federal and state land managers adhere to an effective smoke management program called the Montana/Idaho Airshed Group. This group utilizes available monitoring of weather conditions, weather prediction models, air quality data, and the Air Quality Hotline to develop burn approvals in a geographic region to lessen the potential for smoke impacts in communities.  It is the responsibility of all individuals who conduct open burning to minimize smoke impacts from their fires.

DEQ may issue burn bans as a result of weather and air quality conditions.  When DEQ issues a burn ban, all open burning is restricted in the area identified.  DEQ encourages all individuals conducting open burning, whether burning a pile of tree limbs in the backyard or a slash pile, to call the appropriate Air Quality Hotline for information on current air quality conditions, allowable forms of open burning, and any restrictions on open burning.  For burning within Reservation Boundaries, please contact the appropriate Tribe.

DEQ Website:
Boundary, Shoshone, Bonner, Benewah, and Kootenai Counties:  1-800-633-6247
Lewis, Latah, Nez Perce, Idaho, and Clearwater Counties:  1-855-401-4636
Ada and Canyon Counties: (208) 373-0313
Pocatello:  (208) 236-6173

DEQ reminds all burners that it is their responsibility to manage their smoke as well as their fire.
Remember, open burning should be limited to only dry vegetative material, should occur only on days when good ventilation will provide excellent smoke dispersion, and must not include any material listed as restricted material such as construction/demolition debris, trade waste or treated wood.

Mary Anderson
Smoke Management Program Coordinator
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
(208) 373-0202

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