Friday, October 17, 2008

Burned Area Emergency Response

In July, I wrote about the Basin Complex fire that burned portions of the Los Padres National Forest. I wondered what was heppening in Los Padres in the aftermath of the Basin Complex and the Indians Fires. These two fires burned a total of 240,170 acres broken down as follows.

National Forest Service acres: 197,497
Other federal lands: 13,066
State: 5,248
Private: 24,263

In checking out the Los Padres website, I learned about the U.S. Forest Service's Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Program.

After a fire on U.S. Forest Service lands, the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program kicks in. The goal of BAER is to to protect
life, property, water quality and deteriorated ecosystems from further damage from flooding and other natural events after a fire. A Forest Service BAER Team was convened in August to assess the entire burn area. Members included specialists in hydrology, soil science, geology, biology, botany, archaeology and engineering. The Team coordinated with local, state and other federal agencies to discuss assessment findings, values at risk and treatment options.

The objectives of the BAER program are to:

* Determine if emergency resource or human health and safety conditions exist.

* Alleviate emergency conditions to help stabilize soil; control water, sediment and debris movement; prevent impairment of ecosystems; and mitigate significant threats to health, safety, life, property and downstream values at risk.

* Monitor the implementation and effectiveness of emergency treatments.

In August, the Forest Service released this rehabilitation and emergency response update where the BAER team reports there early findings including a summary of acreage burned and post-fire ecological vulnerabilities.

In late September, the U.S. Forest Service released the BAER plan for U.S. Forest Service properties burned in the Basin Complex and Indians Fires. The approved initial BAER report may be found here (adobe reader required).

One of the responses under BAER is applying hydromulch to burned areas. According to the current conditions page of the Los Padres website:
Hydromulch will be applied by aircraft to about 1500 acres in the Gap Fire area. Hydromulch is an all-organic mix of paper/wood fiber, water and a binding substance. It helps hold the soil in place to minimize erosion, trap moisture and create an environment in which the native seeds and roots already present in the soil can sprout. The green dye in the hydromulch helps the pilots see where they have made their drops, but the color will fade to a light brown within a short period of time. Treatments are scheduled to begin on September 24 and will take 3-4 weeks to complete. The treated areas will be closed to all public entry for the first year to protect the hydromulch cover.

The first phase of hydromulching was completed on October 6. A map of the hydromulched area may be found here.

Not that the 1,500 acres that were hydromulched in this first phase account for only a very small percentage of total acres burned (197,497) in June and July on National Forest Service Lands. If my understanding of the Approved Initial BAER Report is correct, many high to moderately burned acres in Los Padres were on very steep slopes. Hydromulch can not be applied if slopes are very steep, so many high and moderately burned acres do not fit the rules or conditions for hydromulching and will not be treated.

I expect that the Forest Service will continue to provide updates on the Los Padres current conditions page. I'll be checking this page from time to time.

November 19, 2015: Unfortunately all or most of the links in this article are outdated and no longer available. The USFS page for Los Padres did have information on the BAER for the Station Fire that have since been removed. I am sorry. 

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