The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has taken a first step toward cutting back bluegrass burning on the reservation.
The tribal council agreed March 13 to start developing a plan for a possible 10-year phaseout, said Bob Bostwick, the tribe’s press secretary.
“It’s just in the very preliminary phases,” Bostwick said Monday.
Tribal leaders acted because of growing public concern over the clouds of smoke produced each summer when growers torch their fields, Bostwick said.
Area bluegrass growers will discuss the tribe’s decision at their board meeting later this month, said John Cornwall, president of the Intermountain Grass Growers Association.
“It’s strictly a tribal decision. It isn’t anything IGGA’s been involved in yet,” Cornwall said.
Some 19,000 acres of bluegrass are grown on privately owned and leased land within the boundaries of the 345,000-acre Coeur d’Alene Reservation.
The growers are non-Indians, Bostwick said.
Many are prominent bluegrass growers from Spokane and Whitman counties. Some are Idaho growers. When they burn on the reservation, they are beyond the reach of state regulators.
But the tribe’s now ready to exercise its jurisdiction over air pollution created on the reservation, Bostwick said.
“The tribe doesn’t tell a farmer what he can or can’t grow. But the tribe has authority over the air canopy over the entire reservation,” Bostwick said.
The tribe will work with local growers and seed companies to study burning alternatives, he said.
A Spokane clean air activist complimented the tribe for moving to consider a burning phaseout.
“We applaud them for doing this. Its a wonderful first step. But 10 years is way too long,” said Patricia Hoffman, a Spokane Valley veterinarian who founded the clean air group Save Our Summers.
Recent national studies of the dangers of small particle pollution, and a petition by more than 300 Spokane doctors last year asking Washington state officials to ban bluegrass burning for health reasons, have added to the urgency, Hoffman said.
Last March, Mary Riveland, the then director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, issued an order to phase out most field burning statewide over three years.
Idaho regulators did not follow suit. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, signaling it might eventually become involved in the regional issue, backed Riveland’s order. Ecology must certify a commercially available alternative to burning before the practice is completely banned in Washington.
Some growers are challenging Ecology’s order in court, but it has withstood legal challenges so far.
The Coeur d’Alenes have scheduled a public meeting to discuss the proposed burning phaseout.
Area bluegrass growers and members of the public are invited, Bostwick said.
The meeting is will be Monday, April 7, at the tribal bingo hall north of Worley on U.S. Highway 95. The time hasn’t been set yet.