Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson inspects straw mulch dropped in Imperial Gulch on Monday.
Express photo by Willy Cook
A $1.6 million aerial reseeding and mulching project to reduce erosion and promote plant growth on areas burned by the Beaver Creek Fire in August was completed Tuesday after five days of work.
The seeding was applied by plane to about 5,900 acres in Greenhorn Gulch, Deer Creek, Curran Gulch in the Croy Creek drainage and Alden and Badger gulches in the Warm Springs drainage. Straw mulch was dropped by helicopter on about 570 acres in Greenhorn and Imperial gulches.
“My Christmas present was getting the seed in this fall and getting the mulching done on Greenhorn,” Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said.
The seeds were a mixture of non-native, sterile rye for short-term erosion control next year, non-native bunchgrasses expected to outcompete cheatgrass in the early spring and native grasses, forbs and sagebrush to provide long-term wildlife forage.
The seeds were dropped by a modified crop-duster plane taking on loads at Sluder Field south of Bellevue. Nelson said the plan was to disperse the seeds at a rate of 17 pounds per acre, down 300 to 500 feet from the ridge tops.
The light-colored seeds were visible on the black, burned soil during a field trip through Greenhorn and Imperial gulches organized for the public by the Ketchum Ranger District on Saturday.
“What I’m happy about is seeing the seeds on the bare soil,” Nelson said while inspecting the seed drops Saturday. “I’d say we got pretty darn good coverage.”
The wildlife portion of the reseeding project was aided by $49,000 from Blaine County’s Land, Water and Wildlife Fund, $16,000 from three conservation organizations and $10,500 from private donors.
“That was really appreciated,” Nelson said.
The main purpose of the mulch is to deflect the energy of raindrops on bare soil, but Nelson said the impact when it’s dropped should also help push the seeds into the ground.
After being delivered to a site near the mouth of Limekiln Gulch by Sunday, 1,000-pound bales of weed-free straw were broken apart and loaded onto helicopters in 2,000- to 3,000-pound loads. The contractor for the entire project was Bradco Environmental, based in Redlands, Calif., though the seed drops were subcontracted to a company from Clovis, N.M., Nelson said.
“I’m really pleased that it went without a glitch from a safety standpoint,” he said. “Everything came together as we were hoping.”
Nelson said additional mulching will be done next spring and summer on about 1,150 acres in Curran Gulch and other areas in the Deer Creek drainage north of Hailey and in the Baker Creek drainage northwest of Ketchum.
During the field trip Saturday, hikers saw the almost totally scorched area through Greenhorn and Imperial gulches. Having supported little forest before the fire, the lower section of Imperial Gulch is now almost entirely denuded and badly eroded. Ketchum Ranger District Trails Supervisor Renee Catherin told hikers that the trail through the lower quarter of the gulch may have to be rerouted over the ridge to the north and down a side drainage of Greenhorn Gulch.
Catherin said trail reconstruction throughout the area should move some sections out of drainage bottoms onto hillsides and reconfigure them to grades of no more than 8-10 percent, less steep than some are now. She said trails built that way are less prone to erosion.
She said most trail work will have to wait until at least 2015 to allow the ground time to stabilize and some vegetation to grow.
“We need that little bit of root system to put in trails,” she said.
Catherin said the Ranger District welcomes any ideas from the public.
“The last thing we want to do is construct something that doesn’t fit the needs of the people who use it,” she said.
Catherin said that despite the fact that blackened tree trunks will be visible for decades, the area should still be worth visiting soon. She said that because of the nutrient release from burned vegetation, groundcover growth during the few years after a fire is usually profuse.
“The understory will go bananas with flowering and forbs,” she said. “It’s going to be a feast for wildlife. From a supporting life standpoint, these kinds of burns are very important. Mature forests are a desert for browse.”
The lightning-caused Beaver Creek Fire burned more than 110,000 acres in and around the Wood River Valley last summer. At one time, it was the No. 1 firefighting priority in the nation.
Greg Moore: email@example.com