N. Idaho tribe plans to burn fields this summer 6-28-07

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) - The northern Idaho Coeur d'Alene Tribe says it intends to continue burning bluegrass fields this summer, even though the agricultural practice has been banned in the rest of the state because of health concerns.

The tribal council voted Wednesday to allow burning one more year while it looks for other methods of preparing fields.

“This is a difficult situation in which the tribe has to balance the economic necessities of our population with public health concerns,” Tribal Chairman Chief Allan said in a press release. “We will continue to find that balance and improve our smoke management program to protect those people most vulnerable to the smoke produced from field burning.”

Kentucky bluegrass seed grown in northern Idaho is shipped across the nation to be used in landscaping and golf courses. Farmers say they must burn the stubble left on fields to improve next year's crop and control pests.

But critics of burning say it causes respiratory problems, and multiple lawsuits were filed.

In January a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its authorization of grass field burning in Idaho, saying the federal agency didn't take the health and environmental impacts of the long-standing practice into account before making its decision.

After the EPA told the state to issue burning permits while it reconsidered whether the state's burn rules conflicted with the federal Clean Air Act, the judicial panel in May clarified its earlier ruling and ordered the EPA to “vacate” its approval of Idaho's burning rules.

But tribal lands, as sovereign lands, are not affected by the federal court's burn ban. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe in 1996 did say it would phase out field burning on the reservation within 10 years.

“They did make a public statement that by this time burning would be phased out,” Patti Gora of Safe Air For Everyone told The Spokesman-Review. “It's unfortunate they chose not to do that.”

Linda Clovis, a spokeswoman for Farmers of North Idaho, which wants a return to field burning across the state, backed the tribe's decision.

“Quite honestly we hope that it's for more than one year,” Clovis said. “They understand the plight of the farmers and quite honestly are willing to work with them.”

The tribe did not say how many acres it planned to burn.