Wednesday, February 17, 2016

2015 Soda Fire ESR -- Interview with Idaho BLM (part 1 of 2)

I want to thank the staff from the Idaho Bureau of Land Management for taking the time to answer a few questions I had on the 2015 Soda Fire ESR. I present this interview, conducted over e-mail in two parts, the second part of the interview will post this Saturday, February 20th.

Q1) RRamblings:  I know that the Soda Fire burned 279,144 acres in  Owyhee county Idaho and Malheur county Oregon. How does the Soda Fire compare with other fires of significant size that have burned in this region and (if applicable) how is the post-fire ESR Plan (aka 2015 Soda Fire ESR Plan) different? For example, were there more invasive species and noxious weeds that perhaps contributed to the spread of the fire?

Idaho BLM: There have definitely been other large fires in the region in recent memory (Murphy Complex, Tri-State), but what sets the Soda fire apart is that almost all of the acreage burned was in sage grouse habitat known as sage brush steppe.  Invasives such as cheat grass and medusa head definitely played a part in the severity of the Soda fire due to their low moisture content but so did erratic wind behavior, and overall dry conditions of the landscape.  Because of the recognized threat to sage grouse habitat posed by wildland fire and how invasives play a part in that and in edging out their healthy habitat, three new polices were issued:  Secretarial Order 3336Sage Grouse Implementation Plan Amendment and the National Seed Strategy.  These policies allowed for changes in the ESR program as they recognized that it will take years to combat invasives and promote a resistant and resilient landscape.

Q2) RRamblings: Am I correct that the ESR plan is a five-year plan that runs through FY20?

Idaho BLM: Yes, the Soda fire ESR plan is a five year plan.  It was signed the latter part of September 2015.

Q3) RRamblings: How has secretarial order 3336 impacted emergency stabilization (ES)? How do you expect secretarial order 3336 to impact burned area rehabilitation (BAR) and restoration? If there are numerous impacts, can you focus on the most important treatments affecting the Sage-Grouse.

Idaho BLM: SO 3336 paved the way for ESR to go from strictly a three year stabilization and restoring to pre-fire condition to a five year program that opens up more allowable treatments and the ability to do re-treatments to bring the fire damaged area back to resistance and resilience and moving toward functioning habitat.   The most important thing for sage-grouse habitat is keeping fires to a minimum and to prevent invasive species such as cheat grass from spreading which degraded the vegetative community as a whole and can increase the size and frequency of wildland fires.  The most important treatment(s) are a combination of many that are used to keep invasives as a minor part of the community and start the process to moving back to a functioning sage-grouse habitat.  All treatments in combination are important.

Q4)  RRamblings: I understand that the Sage-Grouse depends on Sage-Brush, and that large areas of Sage-Brush were burned in the fire. Am I correct that there was no evidence of Sage-Grouse mortality from the Soda Fire? If so, what happened to them.  

Idaho BLM: There was a chance of some sage-grouse mortality due to the fire.   Sage-grouse probably moved to suitable habitat away from the fire perimeter.

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