Letters From the West

Bahr and Barker talk wildfire to City Club, IEF

National Park Fire Ecologist Dick Bahr at the National Interagency Fire Center and I have both come a long way since we both experienced the huge fires 25 years ago in Yellowstone National Park firsthand.

I was a reporter for the Idaho Falls Post-Register and Bahr was in charge of aviation operations in Yellowstone in 1988. Both of our careers were shaped by that amazing fire season.

We didn’t meet until 2007, another big fire season in the Northern Rockies, when he and Tom Boater of the Bureau of Land Management briefed me on the unusually volatile conditions their firefighters were seeing in places like Murphy Springs in southern Idaho’s desert and in the forests around Yellow Pine.

Today the fierce wildfires that burn tens of thousands of acres a day have become routine.

Dick Bahr, National Park Service Fire Science and Ecology Program Leader

Dick Bahr, National Park Service Fire Science and Ecology Program Leader

Last year Bahr, on detail to an area fire command for southern Idaho, told me, and I reported, that more than half of the forests of southern and central Idaho had burned since 1988. The old fires were helping firefighters control new ones, demonstrating the wisdom of fuel treatment by fire and logging.

Then this year he told me that the return of fire to areas burned in the last 20 years may be reshaping the forests as the fire seasons get longer, the summers hotter and the winters warmer.

We are jointly telling what we have learned in a presentation of the City Club of Boise and Idaho Environmental Forum at the Grove Hotel, Dec. 11 at noon. The cost is $18 for lunch and $5 for people who just come to listen.

Register online here by noon Monday.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West