Whitman County officials are proposing a ban on all agricultural burning when the Cougars play football at home.
If the ban is adopted, thousands of motorists who travel through Whitman County to attend Washington State University football games may breathe easier.
But farmers who work on weekends during the busy fall season will face inconveniences as they try to adjust their burn schedules around Cougar football Saturdays.
Burning is already prohibited on Sundays and holidays in Whitman County. For the increasing numbers of farmers holding down regular weekday jobs, Saturdays are important burn days, said Randy Suess, of the Whitman County Ag Burn Task Force that recommended the ban.
“We hated to eliminate it completely, so with Cougar Saturdays it’s more of a public relations thing to show we care and are doing our best to hold down emissions,” Suess said. “We don’t want to lose the privilege of being able to use fire as a tool.”
So far, the proposal is generating little opposition, according to Whitman County Commissioner Hollis Jamison.
“We feel it’s a good thing to try to work more closely with people from the cities,” Jamison said. “We don’t want to cause undue illness to them if they come into our county.”
Jamison, a conservative Garfield farmer, said in addition to sometimes aggravating asthma, thick smoke drifting across county roadways can be dangerous for motorists.
The county’s fire and soil conservation districts also back the ban, according to County Commissioner Les Wigen.
“This is a policy we are going to adopt and I think most of the farmers will accept it,” Wigen said. “It helps for good public relations.”
Last year, 199 of 239 Whitman County burn permits were issued in September.
In February, Whitman County officials received authority from the state Department of Ecology to regulate agricultural burning through local permitting policies.
They must still comply with the statewide Kentucky bluegrass burning phase-out, which limits farmers to burning only a third of what’s in production this fall.
Whitman County officials are hoping that by policing themselves they can avoid more outside limitations.
“The farm communities understand it’s needed and required but when you have urban people coming from outside a farm community on the weekends they don’t understand,” said Don Graedel, county director of the Farm Service Agency.