Letters From the West

Foresters miss three weeks of prime burning weather to reduce fuels

Fires in the summer burn hot and unpredictable. That why foresters like to burn in the fall. (Idaho Statesman photo by Kyle Green)

Fires in the summer burn hot and unpredictable. That why foresters like to burn in the fall. (Idaho Statesman photo by Kyle Green)

The Boise National Forest had planned to burn 5,400 acres this fall to reduce fuels. The Payette Forest also planned to burn about 5,000 acres this fall.

Because of the federal shutdown, zero acres have been burned.

The Forest Service also had 13 contracts for logging and thinning project on the Boise this fall, which also reduced brush and trees that fuel large crown fires in the heat and dryness of the summer. Those contractors were ordered out of the woods by the agency due to the federal shutdown like loggers across the nation including three timber sales on the Payette.

There is little political debate that Idaho’s forests need more prescribed burning and mechanical thinning especially around communities. But another political debate about whether to defund or delay Obamacare trumped this national consensus.

The loggers can expect to get a letter today telling them they can resume their work. Residents can also get permits again to cut firewood.

The Forest Service also is hoping to take advantage of the two or three week of fall burning season they have left. But Boise National Forest Fire Management Officer Bob Sindelar will have fewer bodies to torch the woods and ensure only the places they want to burn, ignite.

That because the seasonal firefighters they use, a third of the prescribed burning workforce, has been laid of for the year.

“We missed nearly three weeks of favorable burning weather,” Sindelar said. “We’re not going to get those three weeks back.”

They can’t just start today. The Forest Service goes to great lengths to inform other agencies and neighbors of their burning plans. They have to get a sign-off from public health officials because of the smoke.

“We ope to have aplan in place tomorrow,” said Brian Harris, a Payette Forest spokesman.

Sindelar expects it will take a week before the Boise staff are ready.

Foresters prefer to do their prescribed burning in the fall because the can be more aggressive with fearing the fire will get away and turn big.

“We’re always cautious when we implement prescribed burns but were even more cautious in the spring,” Sindelar said.

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