WASHINGTON — Gov. Jay Inslee's office said Monday he will participate by phone in a meeting President Joe Biden is convening Wednesday at the White House to discuss drought and wildfires with the leaders of Western states, as a record heat wave grips the Northwest.
Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said in an email the Washington Democrat's staff rearranged his schedule to let him take part in the meeting remotely, after Lee told The Spokesman-Review last Friday the governor would be unable to attend because the June 30 gathering coincides with the end of the state's COVID-19 restrictions.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden would convene the meeting to bring together governors, cabinet officials and private sector representatives "to discuss the devastating intersection of drought, heat, and wildfires in the Western United States and strengthening prevention, preparedness, and response efforts for this wildfire season."
The governors of seven Western states — Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and California — will attend the meeting at the White House, which comes as the nation braces for another devastating fire season and more than 90% of the American West is experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
As of Monday, more than 30,000 wildfires had burned nearly 1.4 million acres across the United States — almost entirely in the West — according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Fifty large fires accounted for 667,000 acres, or roughly half the total acreage burned so far this year.
In response to a question in Friday's White House press briefing, Psaki told The Spokesman-Review the GOP governors of Idaho, Montana and Arizona were not scheduled to attend the Wednesday meeting, though she would not say whether the three Republicans had been invited.
Brooke Stroyke, a spokesperson for Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte confirmed by email the Montana governor was not invited to Wednesday's meeting at the White House. On Friday, Gianforte shared a previous Spokesman-Review story and wrote that he was "disappointed" Biden "didn't offer a seat at the table to Montana and other states facing a severe wildfire season."
Minutes later, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., shared Gianforte's tweet and accused Biden of "purposefully leav(ing) out" Montana's governor while the state battles drought and fires.
More than 68% of Montana is under moderate to extreme drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor data, and roughly 89% of Idaho is experiencing moderate to "exceptional" drought — the only category higher than "extreme" on the scale maintained by the federal tracker based at the University of Nebraska.
As of Monday, three active wildfires in Montana had burned more than 38,000 acres and two active blazes in Idaho had burned 327 acres. In Washington, the Koffman Road fire was fully contained after burning 425 acres in Kittitas County.