Straw stacks for mulch. Photo
copyright Lynne Stone.
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT:
Sawtooth National Forest
2647 Kimberly Rd. E.
Twin Falls, ID. 83301
Public Affairs Officer Ed Waldapfel:
NOTE: Emphasis added by
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
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!
Photo copyright Lynne Stone.
The BAER report addresses four types of
treatments. 1 – Land; 2 – Roads and Trails; 3 – Structures; and 4 –
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.
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
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
“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