Friday, April 18, 2014

Fire rehabilitation work resumes

Most trail closures will remain in place

Express Staff Writer

Volunteers with the Wood River Bike Coalition work to restore fire-damaged trails Wednesday in Greenhorn Gulch, north of Hailey. Courtesy photo

     Trail reconstruction has begun and rehabilitation work is scheduled for May on areas burned by the Beaver Creek Fire last summer.

     A five-day, $1.6 million aerial seeding project was carried out in November on 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 to reduce erosion there.

     Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said seeding and mulching will continue on 1,100 acres in Curran, Badger and Alder gulches sometime in May.

     “We’ll just need to look at the weather and get the contractor lined up to come back,” he said.

     Nelson said Forest Service employees will be monitoring the burned areas for growth of noxious weeds, which can establish themselves more quickly than native vegetation.

     “The first season or two are pretty critical,” he said.

     He said the agency will also assess the condition of high-altitude whitebark pines, many of which were burned by the fire, and perhaps plant seedlings.

     Nelson said road and trail closures in the burned areas that were deactivated over the winter will be re-established next week in places where hillsides still look susceptible to erosion. He said he wants to get that done before spring rains cause any more mudslides, such as happened in Greenhorn Gulch and Croy Creek Canyon last fall.

     “We don’t want to get anybody trapped,” he said.

     Nelson said the closures also reduce the inadvertent transport of invasive plants by people recreating in the area.

     He said workers spent lots of time last fall cleaning up mud flows and replacing culverts on Warm Springs Road, Deer Creek Road and Baker Creek Road. He said Warm Springs Road was opened over Dollarhide Summit at that time and Baker Creek Road will probably be opened this summer, but upper Deer Creek Road will remain closed.

     Two public meetings are scheduled for May 5 and 6 in Ketchum and Hailey to provide information on trail openings and rehabilitation work. Exact locations and times have not yet been set.

     “The goal is to get the public back into these areas as soon as we can,” Nelson said, “but the first year is going to be a little tough.”

     On Wednesday evening, 45 volunteers organized by the Wood River Bike Coalition began working on rebuilding the Cow Creek trail in Greenhorn Gulch.

     The organization has similar sessions scheduled from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on each Wednesday for the next three weeks on the Cow Creek, Mahoney Creek and Lodgepole Creek trails. Executive Director Brett Stevenson said the organization’s goal is to get those trails into good enough shape that they can be opened by mid-May.

     Nelson said 40,000 bitterbrush and sagebrush seedlings are being grown this spring at Lucky Peak Nursery near Boise for planting in the fall in Greenhorn and Imperial gulches and in the Deer Creek drainage.

     Some of those will go to an effort by student volunteers to plant them on 20 acres of public land at Greenhorn Gulch this fall. The students have been collecting money through donation boxes at Albertsons in Hailey, Atkinsons’ Market in Bellevue and Main Street Market and Starbucks in Ketchum. Daphne Muehle, director of development for the Wood River Land Trust, which is coordinating the effort, said the boxes will remain out through the summer, though locations may change.

     With substantial snowfall in February, the upcoming fire season does not look as dire as it did early this winter. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snow-water equivalent in the Big Wood Basin is 92 percent of normal. In forested areas to the northwest, the Boise River basin is at 105 percent of normal and the Payette River basin is at 102 percent of normal.

     Sawtooth National Forest Fire Management Officer Nate Lancaster said the forest has the same amount of equipment and personnel available for initial attack on wildfires that it has for the past few years. That is one 20-person Hotshot crew, a five-person hand crew in Stanley, a 10-person hand crew on the Fairfield District, a small helicopter based in Hailey and six engines distributed throughout the forest.

     Due to a bad fire season throughout the West last summer, officials directing the Beaver Creek fire-fighting effort were not always able to obtain the resources they requested at the national level. Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Jennifer Jones said there will be only a slight increase in the amount of equipment and personnel available on national forests to fight fires this summer. She said that will include between 10,000 and 10,500 firefighters.

     However, she said that’s an improvement over the past few years when the fire-fighting budget was declining. She said that due to the federal sequestration last year, the agency had 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer engines than it had in 2012.

     In February, Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo, both R-Idaho, introduced legislation that would exempt large wildlife-fighting efforts from funding restrictions imposed by the Balanced Budget and Emergency Control Act by including them with disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, which are eligible for emergency funding. That would free the Forest Service and BLM from having to take money from their fire-prevention budgets to fight fires during bad years.

     Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said the Obama administration has stated that it will include the provision in its proposed 2015 budget.

     “We’re not running into a lot of opposition,” Nothern said. “The agencies are all for it.”

     Jones said that due to climate change, the Forest Service expects to be confronted with more and bigger fires in the future. She said the agency is counting on the public to be more cautious when dealing with flammable situations and to better protect their own homes against burning embers.

     In a recent news release, Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman reminded local residents to take steps to reduce the vulnerability of their homes. Those include removing combustible material from under and around the house to a distance of at least 30 feet, keeping groundcover low and irrigated, and having a driveway at least 15 feet wide with a turnaround. More information can be found at

     Lassman said local firefighters this spring will take annual wildfire refresher courses and take a fuel-burnout class with the Forest Service and BLM on June 5-6. An annual urban interface drill will be held in Sun Valley on June 14.

     The Beaver Creek Fire was started by lightning last August west of Croy Canyon. It eventually burned more than 110,000 acres of land on the west side of the Wood River Valley.

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