Michelle Erdie is the Sawtooth National Forest North Zone Fire Prevention & Education Specialist.
By MICHELLE ERDIE
We who live in the mountains have learned to adapt to an environment in which fire and smoke are inseparable from our daily lives. Smoke from California drifted into the Wood River and Sawtooth valleys beginning in June. Next, smoke from the South Barker Fire blew into town. As we approach the end of summer and the start of autumn, residents can expect fire management specialists to continue to take advantage of the weather and fuel conditions to conduct prescribed burning. Prescribed fire is a vegetative management tool used to maintain fire-dependent ecosystems and restore those outside their natural balance.
A prescribed burn is planned for the Pole Creek area in the Sawtooth Valley to benefit aspen regeneration. If an aspen stand has not had a fire in many years, conifers start to take over. Aspen's main method of reproduction is vegetative, with new suckers (or seedlings) growing off the roots of mature trees. Many new shoots are produced this way, especially after a major disturbance like a fire. Shortly after a fire, new suckers start growing within the recently burned area.
Wildlife biologists and fire managers plan a prescribed fire near Galena summit to benefit declining whitebark pine stands. Whitebark grow at high elevations where the soil is dry and rocky. They often grow in clusters of three or more from seeds buried years earlier by Clark's nutcrackers. Seedlings grow well in open, sunny places with bare ground. The Clark's nutcracker depends on openings created by fire to plant the whitebark seeds for their own survival and the survival of future whitebark stands.
Finally, smoke will rise throughout the Sawtooth and Wood River valleys from fire crews' burning slash piles created by wood-cutters. This is simply to clear the ground of dangerous fuels that build up over the years. As we transition from summer to fall, we would like to remind woodcutters to pile their slash in a teepee-like fashion so trained fire crews can follow behind, burn the piles and clear the ground of dead vegetation.