Clean air activists angry about thick clouds of smoke from grass field burning in North Idaho have hired two environmental lawyers to take on the powerful industry.
“Enough is enough,” said Art Long, a retired Army officer who lives near Hope.
Grass growers in the Idaho Panhandle and southwest Spokane County have pledged to “manage” their smoke by directing it away from urban areas.
But heavy smoke pollution during the industry’s self-imposed 47-day burning season shows that approach hasn’t worked, Long said.
“Smoke management is a farce. The growers refuse to address smoke reduction, including alternate-year burning and acreage reductions,” Long said.
Growers no longer burn on weekends and Fridays in response to public concerns, said Wayne Meyer, a grass-seed grower on Rathdrum Prairie.
“Over the years, we as farmers feel we’ve given all we can give,” said Meyer, former president of the 450-member Intermountain Grass Growers Association.
The Clean Air Coalition has retained attorneys Chuck Sheroke and Mark McGregor of Coeur d’Alene.
The group is considering a challenge to the “freedom to farm” law passed by the Idaho Legislature that exempts grass burners from nuisance suits.
The law says anything considered a common farming practice, including field burning, isn’t a nuisance.
Long said the legal challenge is being made possible by the offers of financial support the coalition has received - especially after Sept. 18, when winds changed direction and enveloped Post Falls with thick smoke.
Meyer agreed this year’s burning season has been unusually difficult.
Weather conditions have been uncooperative, with rain causing slow burns and more smoke, he said.
The voluntary season for Spokane County growers ends today, and the Idaho growers will stop on Oct. 5, said Martha Dailey of the industry association.