The Pioneer Fire seems like a not so distant summer memory of billowing clouds from fire eruptions along its path, to smoky days lingering in the valleys of Boise County. The burned forest grew by thousands of acres daily. The fire which started in July 18, 2016 finally reached official 100% containment on Thursday, November 3rd after burning 300 square miles.
A scheduled tour for media outlets and reporters gave a firsthand look to see what is planned for the Pioneer Fire Recovery. The tour was along a closed area of Clear Creek Rd, Forest Service Road 582 put everyone right into the prime scorched landscape. Spruce trees were uprooted, blackened soils and trees were as far as the eye could see. Yet, there were stands of green trees not touched by the intense heat. Some plant life was starting to grow again.
With devastation comes the work of reforestation and minimize other hazards so that people can continue to recreate in the fire areas. This is where the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) comes in to set up assessments of what areas need help in mitigating potential disasters. This assessment and required funding has already started.
“Sixty percent of the 500 mile road system within the fire perimeter is in need of repairs,” says Brett Barry, Boise NF Engineer. Barry identifies the culverts to be replaced. Some culverts are being designed to assist with aquatic passage, particularly for the Bull Trout. Other areas that have serious potential for debris flows from heavy rain or a fast snow melt are being treated with aerial drops of straw or wood mulch or some seeding to give a more stable landscape.
There are three phases of the Pioneer Fire recovery. The first is to take some immediate actions in Fire Suppression Repair. This could require repairs to roads, staging areas, drop points and safety zones. Much of this work is done even before the fire is completely contained. This repair work is needed in hopes of minimizing soil erosion and impacts from fire suppression during active fires.
Teams of scientists and engineers make assessments quickly so work can begin as soon as funding is approved in Washington D.C. Terry Hardy, Boise NF BAER Coordinator discussed what is involved in the first year. Many things considered in the assessments are post-wildfire threats to human life, safety and property including critical cultural or natural resources on National Forest Land.
The areas where there is major vegetation loss BAER starts emergency stabilization measures. Sediment and debris flows can lead to flooding in the watersheds. Actions are taken to minimize disaster potentials to recreationalists and nearby residential areas. This could mean tree cutting and aerial drops of straw or wood mulch. Repairs are being done before the first significant storm hits.
The final stage is recovery and restoration which is a long term plan. Areas not able to recover on their own, such as habitats, replacing burned fences, treating noxious plant infestations and reforestation are repaired. Trees are removed along travel routes that pose hazards. Trees that are still alive but considered stressed trees will be monitored for bug or noxious plant infestations.
John Kidd, Lowman District Ranger, discussed the future of recreation and water safety. Right now the activities along the Southfork of the Payette River are closed from Deadwood Campground to Danskin along Banks-Lowman Road. This area has steep terrain and logs are still falling into the river. “It is just not a good place for rubber rafts right now,” confirms Kidd.
John Roberts, Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) Manager will continue to monitor potential emergency situations for Boise County and make sure key people and agencies are ready to respond. Roberts says, “It is important to keep information and alerts sent out, without feeling like we are crying wolf.” Mother Nature is in charge, but the efforts of so many agencies can reduce the risks and make the forest accessible.
In the spring the Forest Service will need help in planting vegetation, working on reforestation efforts and cleaning trails. So many groups and clubs utilize the area for recreation and Kidd hopes that people will “take ownership of their recreational forest by volunteering”. The timbered landscape may be a burn scar now but many are determined to give hope to the forest and its future.
Written by Janet Juroch – BCC Staff Writer