Idaho Environmental Forum Considers Aftermath of Pioneer Wildfire 

click to enlarge - The Pioneer Wildfire burned nearly 200,000 acres in 2016. -  - BOISE NATIONAL FOREST
  • Boise National Forest
  • The Pioneer Wildfire burned nearly 200,000 acres in 2016.
The Pioneer Wildfire was one of the largest and most expensive fires in Idaho history, charring approximately 190,000 acres and racking up to $100 million in damage. It took 64 days for a total of 1,236 firefighters, support staff and administrators to battle it back.

Speakers at the Idaho Environmental Forum on March 21 offered a glimpse of the trail ahead for the still-recovering Boise National Forest. According to Idaho City District Ranger Brant Petersen, fire "changes the forest and costs more money than anything else we do." That has included dramatic changes to the commercial logging and recreation industries, he said—not to mention the environmental health of the forest.

The fire produced a huge volume of salvageable timber. Estimates are still being conducted, but Petersen said there may be between 70 million and 80 million board feet of timber in the burn zone, but "volume's tricky—some of it burned up." Also burned were a number of rentable yurts. Meanwhile, stands of dead trees, waiting for a gust of wind or erosion to topple over trails, pose a public hazard. The blaze also destroyed approximately 900 assurance and directional signs.

"A wrong turn will take you a long, long, long, long way off," said David Claycomb, recreation bureau chief at the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

Underpinning much of the conversation at the panel discussion, which also included Elizabeth Spaulding, a facilitator for the Boise Forest Coalition, was the incidence of wildfires. In 23 years, 68 percent of the district where Petersen works has burned.

While most fires, caused by anything from unextinguished campfires to lightning strikes, are put out before they reach an acre in size, mega blazes like the Pioneer Fire "have become almost the norm," Petersen said. One possible suspect is climate change, which is gradually drying out and lengthening the burn season, increasing the odds (and fuel supply) of large fires. Petersen wouldn't go into the issue in-depth, given political sensitivities.

"That's my view of climate change—what's at risk and what can we do about it?" he said.
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