Thursday, March 26, 2015

Reforestation Begins in Burned Area Around the Boise National Forest

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 11:02 AM

In years past, the Boise National Forest has relied on volunteers to help replant areas severely burned by wildfires. - BOISE NATIONAL FOREST
  • Boise National Forest
  • In years past, the Boise National Forest has relied on volunteers to help replant areas severely burned by wildfires.
In the summer of 2013, the Pony Complex 150,000-acre wildfire ripped through the Boise National Forest, 12 miles northeast of Mountain Home. Now, the Mountain Home Ranger District is looking for volunteers to help plant bitterbrush seedlings in the burned area. The seeding efforts will focus on important winter range for deer and elk near the Anderson Ranch Dam. 

The planting takes place on April 4 and 11, regardless of the weather. 

"This kind of help does a long way towards recovery of this very intense fire area and really contributes to helping wildlife species recover," said the district's wildlife biologist Scott Bodle in a news release. "The combined efforts of helpful citizens, agencies, ranchers and contractors will slowly bring the area back to its original state."

Interested volunteers should contact Bodle by email or at 208-587-7849. Participating in the project requires volunteers to meet at the Mountain Home district office (3080 Industrial Way, just off Highway 20, north of I-84) at 9:30 a.m. each day. Volunteers should bring outdoor work clothes, boots, gloves, shovels if they have them and a lunch.

Other replanting efforts in the Mountain Home Ranger District will cause the closure of several forest service roads during the spring. The forest service roads north of Featherville including road numbers 100, 112, 132, 135, 157, 157S and 158 will be closed through April 30.

Closing these roads will allow access for tree planting crews working on the Trinity Ridge fire area. That fire, which reached more than 145,000 acres, burned in 2012. Crews will be planting conifer seedlings in the area over the next ten years. The area suffered nearly 100 percent conifer mortality from the fire.

To help in the replanting of areas like these, the Lucky Peak Nursery just outside of Boise produces more than two million one- and two-year-old trees and shrubs. The seedlings are used for public land reforestation in the intermountain west from areas damaged by wildfire and timber harvest. 

Once those seedlings are distributed, the nursery allows the public to purchase the surplus. The seedling sale begins on Saturday, March 28 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and runs Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through the end of April. Fifty bareroot seedlings—enough to fit in a standard grocery bag—costs $30. Seedlings include ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir and western larch. They're recommended for rural areas and for landowners who need trees for windbreaks, wildlife habitat and forest enhancement on their properties.

Prescribed burns help achieve the ecological benefits of wildfire, without devastating so much of the land. - BOISE NATIONAL FOREST
  • Boise National Forest
  • Prescribed burns help achieve the ecological benefits of wildfire, without devastating so much of the land.
Along with reseeding efforts in the Boise National Forest, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho Department of Lands also announced the start of the 2015 prescribed fire program. The state and federal agencies plan to ignite fires on up to 30,977 acres of public land across the state. 18,500 acres are slated to burn in the spring and 12,500 acres will burn in the fall.

The interagency program pays close attention to weather and fuel conditions as well as air quality in both Idaho and Montana. It works closely with rural communities to reduce fire risks along the Wildland Urban Interface, as well as the Montana/Idaho Airshed Group (based in Missoula, Mont.) to ensure air quality remains acceptable while controlled burns are taking place.

The purpose of prescribed fires is to create the natural and positive effects of fire in ecosystems and reduce fuels from excessive trees and brush that could feed large wildfires.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Burning Conditions in Central Idaho are More Like Mid-Summer

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 11:50 AM

The official start of spring is still more than a week away, but Idaho has already experienced its first wildfire. The 15-acre blaze ignited on March 9 in the Payette National Forest three miles northeast of Council.

According to a news release from the Payette National Forest, the fire was intentionally sparked by a landowner on private property, but quickly grew out of control and spread through a ponderosa pine stand in the national forest. It did not threaten any structures.

Crews responded to the Shingle Flat fire on March 9, with 10 fire fighters remaining on the site March 10 to extinguish hot spots.

Gary Brown, fire management officer for the Payette National Forest, said wildfire is usually not a threat this time of year, but because of heavy spring rains and a lack of snowpack, "our light fuels have dried out significantly, and other fuels are quickly drying out throughout the course of each day."

"We are already experiencing burning conditions that are more like early- to mid-summer,"  McCall Fire Chief Mark Billmire stated in the release.

Greg Keller, assistant fire warden for the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association, said he's concerned that people aren't aware of the unseasonably dry conditions. He said many people often bring their families together and conduct field and debris burning.

"These groups need to be aware that conditions are not typical, and the likelihood of a fire getting away from them is very much a reality," he said.

Keller warned that just because agencies like the Forest Service and Ponderosa State Park are igniting prescribed burns does not mean it's safe for anyone else to burn.

To help prevent wildfires, fire districts in McCall, Donnelly and Cascade have organized woody debris collection sites where material can be dropped off starting May 23 and running through the month of June.

"People have asked me if we are in for a severe fire year," Brown said. "My answer is that it's too early to tell as we need to see what this spring brings as for as rain. But right now, burning conditions are such that small yard or field burning projects can quickly become wildfires."

According to the InciWeb incident reporting site, there are two active wildfires in the United States: the 59-acre North Pole fire in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota, and the 200-acre Stephens Wildfire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The Stephens Wildfire was also sparked on private land during a prescribed burn, but has been 100 percent contained while fire fighters continue to patrol for hot spots. The North Pole fire, meanwhile, is 10 percent contained but crews expect to have it fully under control by Thursday, March 12. The cause is still under investigation.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Prescribed Burns Near Bogus Basin Begin Today

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 9:46 AM

As the snow recedes, fire crews will be able to conduct prescribed burns in the tree wells. - BOISE NATIONAL FOREST
  • Boise National Forest
  • As the snow recedes, fire crews will be able to conduct prescribed burns in the tree wells.
Tree well burning operations work to decrease fuels underneath large trees. - BOISE NATIONAL FOREST
  • Boise National Forest
  • Tree well burning operations work to decrease fuels underneath large trees.
The Boise National Forest Mountain Home Ranger District plans to begin a unique prescribed burn today on land directly adjacent to Bogus Basin Ski Resort. The project is called the Boise Ridge Tree Well burn, where open patches of ground under or near tree wells will be burned. The burns will take place in an area 300 to 400 acres in size, below the main resort parking lot and near the nordic trails—starting today through Friday.

The goal of the burn is to reduce the threat of tree mortality. Having a cool and low intensity flame near the tree trunk and the lower limbs helps restore fire-adapting characteristics in the trees and reduces available fuels like needles and small branches, should a summer wildfire burn through the area.

The burn was supposed to take place last week, but poor weather conditions postponed the operation to today. It's still coming a month earlier than planned, due to quickly-receding snow. More information is available from the Boise National Forest Prescribed Fire Hotline at 208-373-4208.
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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Blaine County Supports Climate Plan

Posted By on Sat, Oct 18, 2014 at 12:10 PM

  • U.S. Forest Service

The Wood River Valley has been hit hard by wildfires over the past several years, devastating much of the surrounding landscape, as well as the summer tourism industry.

Now, as a way to try to curb that—as well as restore watersheds, manage water quality and quantity, control invasive species and develop recreation at higher altitudes—Blaine County commissioners have agreed to contribute $5,000 to a study that would assess the area's vulnerability to climate change and provide recommendations for the future.

According to the Idaho Mountain Express, Sawtooth National Forest Environmental Coordinator Carol Brown presented a $30,000 Wood River Climate Adaptation Plan, which could be led by the U.S. Forest Service and local partners. 

"Temperatures are predicted to rise from 3 to 11 degrees over the next 50 years," she told the commissioners at a meeting earlier this week. "How are we going to prepare for that?"

The plan will compile data from the Bg Wood and Little Wood river drainages—looking closely at water availability and fire activity. One commissioner suggested broadening the study to include Silver Creek.

Several groups in the valley already deal with issues related to climate change, and Brown said she hopes her plan wold bring them all together to provide concrete recommendations for the county. The Sawtooth National Forest is willing to provide another $5,000 for the plan, Brown said, and she also plans to ask the cities of Ketchum and Hailey, as well as the Bureau of Land Management, for $5,000 each.

The plan calls for the hiring of a half-time employee to work for one year and conduct a resource vulnerability study that could be presented to the community—costing $30,000. The 5B Restoration program is a community-led initiative already working to restore areas damaged by the Beaver Creek Fire two summers ago.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mop-Up Begins on Bull Fire Near Cascade

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 at 3:03 PM

The Bull Fire is burning 95 acres, 14 miles southeast of Cascade. - BOISE NATIONAL FOREST
  • Boise National Forest
  • The Bull Fire is burning 95 acres, 14 miles southeast of Cascade.

The 94-acre Bull Fire sparked 14 miles southeast of Cascade a few days ago, and though it's only 25 percent contained, fire crews have already started a mop-up operation. The mop-up includes clearing smoldering hot pockets of embers in the ground and breaking off still-burning branches that can be easily reached. The goals of mop-up operations are to remove burning materials to strengthen control lines, make a fire area safe and reduce residual smoke.

Four helicopters are shuttling supplies to crews on the front line, such as fresh water, food and equipment. The helicopters also stand-by to provide medial transportation because of the remote location of the firefighters. 

The Bull Fire is burning between the Bull Creek drainage and the Middle Fork of the Payette River. It's slowly burning timber in a remote area of the forest, away from any structures. The following trails remain closed though: 033, 077, 100, 102, 104 and 110. Damp and cooler weather for the weekend will help suppress the fire, but because of the dry conditions in the Boise National Forest, the public is asked to fully extinguish all campfires. The cause of this fire is still under investigation.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Feds Allow Idaho Ranchers to Help Fight Wildfires

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 9:53 AM

When a wildfire sparks on a rancher's land, what the rancher sees burning is money—the land grows food for their cattle, and if it's charred, ranchers are unnecessarily spending money on hay. It can take a couple of years before that land is productive again as well.

When ranchers see a fire start, they want to see the fire put out, fast. Boise State Public Radio reports that this has caused a contentious relationship between ranchers and those who manage wildfires.

Ranchers like Charlie Lyons of Mountain Home told BSPR that the Bureau of Land Management takes too long to put out a fire.

"Me and another rancher showed up on that fire and they were back there fartin' around," he said. "They being the BLM. They were back there doing their coordinating."

Out of frustration, ranchers try to suppress fires themselves—making government agencies nervous about possible liability issues. A few court cases in 1995 and 2001 kept the BLM wary of volunteer firefighters when a handful died in fires and their families successfully sued the agency.

According to the BLM, the government can't restrict a landowner from trying to manage a fire on his or her own property, but the agency cautions that the citizen can quickly become a hinderance to firefighting effort and a danger to themselves and professional firefighters.

The two groups reached an agreement at last—looking to Oregon, where government fire managers have formed alliances with ranchers dating all the way back to the 1960s. An Oregon law allows ranchers to form their own firefighting entities called Rangeland Fire Protective Associations. The legal agreement also allows the government to supply the associations with equipment like water tenders, radios and protective gear, as well as training.

Since 2012, when the law passed in Idaho, more than 250 ranchers have undergone training, watching Powerpoint presentations in classrooms. There are now five fire protective associations in the state including the Mountain Home, Owyhee, Saylor Creek, Three Creek and Black Canyon areas, with more on the way in areas such as Shoshone Basin, Notch Basin, Prairie, Pahsimeroi Valley, Weiser and Clark County. They protect more than 4 million acres of private, state and federal lands according to the BLM.
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Yesterday's Smokey Skies Came from California, New Fire Sparks in Boise National Forest

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 10:55 AM

The Bull Fire has burned 20 acres in the Boise National Forest near Cascade since yesterday. - BOISE NATIONAL FOREST
  • Boise National Forest
  • The Bull Fire has burned 20 acres in the Boise National Forest near Cascade since yesterday.
The Boise area made it through most of the summer with only a few days of smoke socking in the Treasure Valley, but the morning of Sept. 18, that smoke descended. It lasted through most of the day, taking the air quality from good to moderate, according to Boise State Public Radio. Though the air looks clear today, the air quality index hasn't changed. 

Yesterday's smokey haze came from wildfires in Northern California, especially the King Fire, which grew 40,000 acres in size on Wednesday—and evacuated close to 3,000 people. It has now burned more than 110 square miles. California authorities arrested a man suspected of deliberately starting the King Fire, according to CNN

Changing winds helped clear the smoke out this morning, but wildfires in Oregon could bring in some smoke from the west, reports Boise State Public Radio.

A new wildfire has started in the Boise National Forest as well. According to a news release, the fire broke out 14 miles southeast of Cascade. The 20-acre Bull Fire is burning in a remote area with no nearby structures.

Around 20 firefighters are involved in the suppression effort, with two helicopters and air tankers as well. Firefighters expect that cooler temperatures, higher humidity and low winds should help, but four more crews have been ordered. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Star-News: Serious Smokejumper Accident in McCall Triggers Forest Service Procedure Change

Posted By on Sun, Aug 17, 2014 at 11:00 AM

A July parachute accident, which critically injured a McCall smokejumper, has triggered a change in procedure from the United States Forest Service.

Eric Dunning, 44, was conducting a typical training jump on July 28 when his parachute failed. He struck a tree and fell about 40 feet to the ground at Bear Basin, just north of McCall. He suffered a fractured pelvis, broken arm and rib, and fractured his vertebrae.

This week's McCall Star-News reports that the incident was the first chute accident since 2010, but was the seventh and most serious incident involving an FS-14 parachute in 2014. A follow-up investigation into Dunning's accident revealed his chute had been used 46 times.

The Star-News reports that the Forest Service has instituted 10 changes to its procedures and training at the McCall smokejumpers base, as well as six other Forest Service smokejumper bases in California, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Among the changes:
  • Jumpers must again review all FS-14 packing instructions and have a new mid-season review done by supervisors.
  • Any discrepancies in packing will be forwarded to the region's development center, which is responsible for equipment safety.
  • All parachutes coming back from jumps will be inspected and measured.
  • If a parachute is not used for 120 days after it is packed, it will be re-inspected.
"The U.S. Forest Service has been aware of the potential for broken steering lines since the FS-14 parachute was implemented in 1996," National Interagency Fire Center Public Affairs Specialist Jennifer Jones told the Star-News. "We have on average four broken control lines on average a year."
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Major Progress on Idaho Wildfires

Posted By on Sat, Aug 16, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Cooler temperatures have allowed the region's firefighters to take advantage in quelling a number of wildfires.

The region's newest wildfire is the Prisoner blaze, which scorched more than 80 acres south of Boise, near the Idaho State Penitentiary. Five Bureau of Land Management engines were on the scene throughout Friday evening. The fire was contained late Friday night and was expected to be under full control by Saturday evening. The fire is suspected of being sparked by firearms being shot in the area. The blaze is under investigation and there are no suspects at this time.

In the Payette National Forest, as many as 29 new wildfires were detected this past week, including:
  • The Captain Fire, which has burned one acre north of New Meadows
  • The Slick Fire, which has burned one-tenth of an acre northeast of McCall
  • The Eagle Rock Fire, which has burned one-tenth of an acre east of McCall.
The Crestline, Mann, North Gulch, Poverty and Sheep wildfires were all controlled on Friday.

The Johnson Bar wildfire, which has burned 6,665 acres southeast of Syringa in the Nez Perce National Forest, still has 670 firefighting personnel on the scene.

Meanwhile, fire restrictions were lifted Friday night on lands managed by the Payette and Boise national forests, once again allowing campground barbecues.
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Friday, August 8, 2014

Wildfires to Keep an Eye On

Posted By on Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at 10:36 AM

A handful of fires spread around the state are shifting focus away from Garden Valley as the Whiskey Complex Fire was recently contained. Now, fires in the Idaho Panhandle, near the Salmon River, and in central parts of the state are gaining momentum.

  • Idaho Panhandle National Forest
The Upper Mica Complex
The Upper Mica Complex Fire was started by lightning in the early afternoon of Aug. 2. It's burned 248 acres 20 miles southeast of St. Maries. There are 380 personnel working on the fire, and they've contained 42 percent of it. 

The largest risk posed by the fire right now is the burning of high-value timber, but its primary activity at this point is only creeping and smoldering. Fire officials are concerned about a cold front forecasted in the next 24 to 48 hours, bringing with it lightning and potential for high winds that would create fire growth.

The Big Cougar Fire
  • Idaho Department of Lands

Burning a much larger area, the Big Cougar Fire has burned 46,000 acres 24 miles south of Lewiston. It also started on Aug. 2, around 10 p.m.  

It's threatening 200 structures and has consumed six so far. Crews worked through the night to construct an eight-mile fire line. Helicopters continue to dip from the Salmon and Snake rivers to cool hot spots.

There are 454 firefighters on the fire, including 15 crews, four helicopters, four engines, three dozers and support personnel. Cloud cover and isolated thunderstorms today will decrease temperatures and increase humidity, while winds will push the fire north. Smoke is expected to stick around.

Fire officials held a public meeting Thursday evening in the community of Waha, with nearly 250 residents in attendance. A Stage 2 Evacuation Warning is in effect for the communities of Waha and Redbird, where residents should be prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Residents along the Snake River nearby are under a Stage 3 Evacuation Request, requiring people to leave the area immediately. Boaters on the Snake River need to be aware of helicopter and plane activity in the area.

  • Idaho Department of Lands
The Highrange Fire
The Highrange Fire was also sparked on Aug. 2 by lightning eight miles west of White Bird near the Hells Canyon Recreation Area. The fire is now 4,078 acres in size, with no containment yet. Thirty structures are threatened, but so far none have been lost.

Firefighting conditions are extremely challenging because of high temperatures, low humidity, steep ground, tight canyons and homes in the proximity. A few camps are being set up along the fire line to keep crews close to the blaze.

Much of the crews' energy is being spent protecting homes and structures. There are 245 personnel fighting the fire, including four engines, one dozer, one helicopter and one water tender. At 6 a.m., the fire was transferred to the Western Montana Type 2 Incident Management Team.

A Stage 3 evacuation for Gretta Creek is in effect and residents should leave the area for their own safety, though no closures are in place. Recreationalists visiting the area should stay alert for changing fire conditions. A Temporary Flight Restriction is in place to keep non-fire-related aircraft out of the area.

The Goat Fire
  • Salmon-Challis National Forest

Burning two miles from the mouth of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Goat Fire has consumed 366 acres since it started from lightning on Aug. 1. Fire growth is minimal, while helicopter buckets are dropping to prevent trail closures. There are no closures at this time.

Weather conditions have favored limited fire growth, and fire officials are monitoring the fire. Because of extremely steep, rugged and inaccessible terrain, it isn't safe to staff the fire with firefighters. They're developing long-term plans to keep the fire's impact to the Middle Fork and Main Salmon River corridors to a minimum.

Salmon-Challis National Forest fire managers expect the fire to continue to burn throughout the summer, or until a significant weather event occurs.

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