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Current News & Issues: Forests & Fires

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Press Release: USDA Forest Service, Sawtooth National Forest

Stanley, ID, October 3, 2005

Straw stacks for mulch. Lynne Stone photo.
Straw stacks for mulch. Photo copyright Lynne Stone.

Sawtooth National Forest
2647 Kimberly Rd. E.
Twin Falls, ID. 83301
(208) 737-3200
Public Affairs Officer Ed Waldapfel:


NOTE: Emphasis added by BWCC


The rehabilitation process is now underway for the 40,838 acre area burned by the recent Valley Road Fire, southeast of Stanley in the White Cloud Mountains.


According to Ruth Monahan, Forest Supervisor for the Sawtooth National Forest, more than $1.7 million dollars has been approved for rehabilitation activities. “I am pleased to announce that our burned area report has been approved and funded,” Monahan said. “Actions are now underway to implement the various activities recommended by our Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team. Local residents and visitors will begin seeing activity within the next week or so in the burn area.”


Timing is critical. “We need to accomplish as much of the rehabilitation work as possible this fall before significant rain and snow storms occur,” said Monahan. “We plan to start immediately, but we know that there will be some work that will have to wait until next year.”


Some rehabilitation work was accomplished by the Team that managed the fire suppression activities. This included rehab work to repair areas affected by suppression efforts, such as hand and dozer constructed fire lines, fire camp locations and bases used for helicopter operations.


The primary work activities recommended in the BAER report focus on reducing threats to human life and safety by removing hazards in areas of concentrated public use, stabilizing drainages that were severely burned, treating and preventing the spread of noxious weeds and establishing monitoring activities to determine the effectiveness of the various rehabilitation treatments.


Up and away! Lynne Stone photo.
Up and away! Photo copyright Lynne Stone.

The BAER report addresses four types of treatments. 1 – Land; 2 – Roads and Trails; 3 – Structures; and 4 – Monitoring.


Forest Service officials have started the process to purchase materials and contract for equipment
to begin on the land treatments. 1,891 acres are scheduled to be treated with straw mulch, dropped from helicopters in the Warm Springs, Fisher, 4th of July and Champion Creek drainages. 2,000 pounds/acre of straw will be applied to provide a protective mulch layer for reducing soil erosion by providing a surface to reduce impacts from rain.


Twenty-five acres of known, noxious weed infestations in the burn area will be treated. Preventing future spread of these weeds is key. Monitoring the use of weed-free straw and the use of washing stations for vehicles entering the burned area, that are involved in rehab work, will help to accomplish this.


Road work will include installation of new culverts and improvements and maintenance to existing drainage structures along the eleven miles of roads in the burn area. Existing culverts are too small to handle the expected increase in runoff from the burned area. Maintenance and improvement of drainage structures, dips and waterbars will be done on twenty-six miles of trails. This includes the installation of about 200 waterbars. Activities in and around trailheads will be directed towards minimizing visitor exposure to hazards that exist as a result of the fire.


One mile of range fence will be constructed on the Warm Creek Cattle and Horse Allotment to prevent livestock grazing in key areas, allowing the burned vegetation to recover. One-tenth of a mile of fence will be constructed at the Aztec Mine/Fisher Creek Trailhead to replace the burned trees that provided a barrier to motorized vehicles prior to the fire. Thirty road and trail hazard warning signs will be installed throughout the burn area warning recreationists of hazards.


A plan to monitor the effectiveness of the rehabilitation activities will be developed. The areas and activities to be monitored include the aerial straw mulch, road storm patrols, trail drainage and cultural resources. Most monitoring activities will be conducted over a three year period, however, some monitoring, such as for noxious weeds, may occur over a five year period.


According to Terry Hardy, BAER Assessment Team Leader, the Valley Road Fire burned extremely hot. “In many areas of the burn, all of the vegetation has been totally destroyed,” Hardy stated. “In fact, the fire was so hot that soil characteristics on more than 28,000 acres has been changed and is now hydrophobic, meaning that when water lands on the surface, it just beads up and does not soak in. If not treated, moisture from rain and snow will just runoff and not penetrate into the soil.”


Headed to drop. Lynne Stone photo.
Headed to drop. Photo copyright Lynne Stone.

The primary areas of concern are located in Warm Springs, Fisher, 4th of July and Champion Creek drainages. Fifty percent or more of the drainage area in these watersheds were affected by the fire. These drainages are important tributaries to the Salmon River, providing clean water and aquatic habitat for four threatened and endangered fish species – sockeye and Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.


Hardy and his 21-person team of Forest Service resource specialists began to assess the affects of the fire while firefighters were still working to contain the fire. “Our assessment shows that 34,000 acres, or 84% of the burned area, experienced a burn severity of moderate to high. The entire burn area was mapped and classified into one of three categories – high, medium or low burn severity.”


Hardy explained that burn severity is the effect of the fire on the forest floor – from the litter layer on down. The longer the duration of the fire and the higher the heat, a number of soil characteristics affected. “What we are talking about here are things like water penetrating the soil, the ability for the slopes to store water runoff and what happens to the nutrients in the soil.


Depending on the temperature, nutrients volatilize and are lost to the atmosphere. In addition, many of the seeds stored in the soil are likely to be destroyed. Basically, the hotter the fire and the longer the duration, we can expect less penetration of rainfall, increased runoff and less nutrients available for new plants.”


Hardy said that due to the change in soil characteristics, there will be increased runoff and potential flooding. The potential for erosion and subsequent sedimentation exists and recovery of natural vegetation is affected.


The assessment also determined that extensive fish kills occurred in Warm Springs, 4th of July and Champion Creeks. This was due to the high intensity burn and temporary changes to water chemistry. The riparian zones were also severely burned in these drainages.


“When our engineering specialists examined the culverts on the 4th of July Creek and Fisher Creek roads, they determined that the culverts were already flowing at moderately high capacity,” Hardy commented. “With changed watershed conditions, the expected increased in overland flow and more runoff, the flow will exceed culvert capacity. That is why we will be replacing the existing culverts with larger diameter culverts.”


Noxious weeds and invasive plants are another major concern in the burn area. With the removal of native vegetation, the burned ground provides additional areas for new infestations of noxious weeds and invasive plants, if not monitored and treated. Preventing new infestations as a result of the fire, or vehicles working in the area, will be given top priority by rehabilitation crews.


The BAER Team doing the rapid assessment on the Valley Road Fire consisted of hydrologists, fishery biologists, soil scientists, wildlife biologists, botanists, rangeland specialists, engineers, archeologists, recreation, minerals, safety and geographical information system personnel. In addition, advice was sought from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station and the U.S. Geologic Survey.


The team began their work on September 13th and submitted their findings on September 23rd. Final approval and funding was received from the Forest Service Washington Office on September 29th.


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