Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Post-fire plan goes to Washington, D.C.

Agencies call for aerial mulching, reseeding


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

A fire engine moves through muddy, ash-laden water Friday evening in the Golden Eagle subdivision, at the mouth of Greenhorn Gulch, north of Hailey. Residents of the area have been battling mudslides and muddy runoff from recent rains. Photo by Roland Lane

    A Burned Area Emergency Response team is requesting federal funding to carry out aerial mulching on about 1,500 acres of highly erodible land burned by the Beaver Creek Fire last month, and aerial seeding to replant grass on about 12,000 acres.
    The purpose of the mulch is to disperse the impact of raindrops and thereby reduce erosion and mudslides.
    Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said the plan was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Region office in Ogden, Utah, on Monday and would be quickly forwarded to the agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. Nelson said he expected a response in about a week.
    “We want to get those contracts out [to do the work] as soon as we get the go-ahead,” he said.
    Nelson said the estimated cost of the proposed actions has not been released to the public, but it is “a lot more” than the $500,000 limit for approval by the regional office alone.
    At a public information meeting Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Community Campus in Hailey, BAER team leader and Forest Service employee Eric Schroder said, “We’re confident that funding will become available to us.”


We’re confident that funding will become available to us.”
Eric Schroder
BAER team leader




    However, funding for work on BLM land, which includes both sides of Greenhorn Gulch near its mouth, may not be immediately available.
    “We’re in a little bit of a pickle because we’re close to the end of our fiscal year,” BLM Shoshone District Manager Beth Maclean said at the meeting.
    Maclean said funding from the agency probably won’t be available until Congress passes a 2014 budget or a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2013. However, she said, “It’s a matter of when the funding will become available, not whether it will become available.”
    Maclean said the BLM plans to apply mulch on ridge tops, then aerially seed affected hillsides late this fall with native grass and forbs, and with sagebrush seeds this winter. She said the seeds will germinate when the snow melts.
    Nelson said that when significant erosion occurs on burned areas, native seeds get carried to the bottom of hillsides. He said volunteer help collecting seeds, especially from sagebrush, will be appreciated.
    Land managers said regrowth of trees is not an immediate concern. While acknowledging that partly burned trees are more susceptible to beetle infestation, Nelson also said that an effort to prevent infestations would be too expensive.
    Schroder said Forest Service road crews have begun clearing debris from culverts and under bridges. He said the plan includes stabilization and reinforcement of bridge abutments.
    “We’re going to make a major investment in road drainage work,” he said. “The engineers on the forest have got their work cut out for them for at least three years on that.”
    The plan proposes to close 80 campsites in the Deer Creek, Warm Springs and Baker Creek drainages for at least a year. It also proposes closures of up to three years on numerous trails, including the Greenhorn, Deer Creek, Kinsey, Curran Gulch, Howard’s, Placer Creek, Castle Creek and Osberg trails. Nelson said 25 to 30 miles of trails will need to be rebuilt.
    Nelson said grazing will be suspended on burned areas in the national forest for at least two years. He said there are no empty allotments that herds can be moved to. Mclean said grazing on BLM lands could be used to reduce cheatgrass in areas that it moves into following the fire.
Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com




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