The 2015 Soda Fire burned nearly 280,000 acres in southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon, including nearly 200,000 acres of sage-grouse habitat, portions of 41 grazing allotments, three wild horse management areas, and a popular motorized and non-motorized recreation area. Due to the location of the fire and its effect on federal, state and private lands, a collaborative approach was taken to assess values at risk within the entire burned area. The Soda Fire Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR) plan was the first large scale fire to be planned and implemented following the release of Secretarial Order 3336 – Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management and Restoration.
The collaborative concept was carried forward with the development and implementation of the ESR effort. This level of collaboration which involved US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is not typical of ESR efforts, but has been successful and supported. The Record of Decision was issued by the Boise and Vale Districts on October 21. The plan identified treatments to begin stabilizing the burned area, promote the recovery of native communities, increase perennial grasses, reduce invasive annual species, and restore shrubs and forbs to take the first steps toward the recovery of habitat for the greater sage-grouse. BLM continues to work with our partners through monitoring,
the development of grazing rest and resumption decisions, and adaptive management.
Emergency Fuel Breaks
On May 5, 2016, the BLM Owyhee Field Office signed an emergency decision authorizing the construction of up to 25 miles of fuel breaks in the highest-priority area of the wildland-urban interface. The fuel breaks will include approximately 200 acres of targeted grazing and mowing along with improvements on up to 25 miles of roads.
Fuel Breaks Environmental Assessment
On May 13, 2016, BLM released an environmental assessment (EA) of a network of fuel breaks designed to protect the ESR investment for public comment.
The EA analyzes the completion of approximately 425 miles of fuel breaks, using a combination of road maintenance, mowing of sagebrush, application of herbicides, targeted grazing, and establishment of vegetative fuel breaks.
These fuel breaks will allow for improved access by fire suppression resources and a higher probability for stopping fires before they become large, protecting lives, property, ESR treatments, and natural resources.
A final EA and decision are anticipated in early June, 2016.
The Soda Fire partners group, consisting of federal and state agencies in Idaho and Oregon, continues to meet regularly to identify future treatments, refine objectives, and maintain the all-hands, all-lands approach used in the project to date.
Numerous research proposals from other agencies such as USGS and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and from a variety of universities are being planned or in process. The results of monitoring data will be used to inform future decisions about adaptive management, additional treatments across the landscape, and resumption of grazing.
The scope and complexity of the project coupled with the high degree of public interest and stakeholder engagement will continue to be a challenge for BLM Boise and Vale Districts.
Many ESR treatments are multi-year treatments and will continue over the next several years, incorporating additional drill seeding, herbicide treatment, seedling planting, seed collection and grow-out, and range improvements. This process will allow for long term resistance and resilience and begin the restoration of sage-grouse habitat. Involvement with partner agencies continues to occur in order to allow for monitoring and re-treatment needs to occur across multiple jurisdictions.
To rehabilitate the 280,000-acre burned area, BLM and its partners:
- Gathered 283 wild horses from three burned Herd Management Areas in Idaho, with all but six horses in the Sands Basin Herd Management Area (HMA) successfully gathered. These horses are being cared for in temporary holding facilities until they can be adopted or returned to the range.
- Assessed and cleaned up three hazardous materials sites.
Repaired roads and recreation trails including culverts, ditches, warning signs, and water barring. Over 28 miles of roads and 150 miles of recreation trails are being repaired now.
- Purchased and mixed 1.6 million pounds of seed for first year treatments. In the fall of 2016, 0.8 million pounds will be seeded.
- Drill seeded 17,257 acres of BLM and State of Idaho land at sites with high soil erodibility factors.
- Completed 27,426 acres of aerial herbicide application (imazapic) for suppressing annual invasive grass germination for native plant release and seed bed preparation.
- Seeded cultural sites with grasses, shrubs, and forbs and increased law enforcement patrols to protect sites during critical first year vegetative recovery.
- Aerial seeded over 200,000 acres to rehabilitate areas impacted by fire suppression, increase perennial grass densities in areas impacted by invasive annual grasses, increase shrub and forb densities, and provide sage-grouse preferred forbs in and around lek areas.
- Planted 492,140 sagebrush and bitterbrush seedlings in fall 2015 and spring 2016. An additional 933,000 seedlings are being grown by local Lucky Peak Forest Service Nursery and and the Snake River Correctional Institute to be planted in fall of 2016 or spring 2017.
- Developed two 25-acre test plots of Pseudomonas fluorescens (D7), a naturally occurring soil bacterium, to test the effectiveness for reducing annual invasive grass over time.
Contracted for the 2016 repair of over 300 miles of grazing management fences damaged by the fire. Other damaged range improvements are also being inventoried and repaired. Approximately 30 miles of temporary fence have been constructed to protect treatments where portions of grazing allotments were burned.
Inventoried and treated noxious weeds in fall 2015 and will continue for the duration of the ESR plan.
Partnered with United States Geological Survey (USGS) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center in Boise to conduct the vegetative treatment monitoring, data collection, analysis, and reports for the Soda ESR project. The BLM worked with partners to develop a ‘Rapid Assessment’ method using 2,000 data points to cover a large fire with many integrated ecotypes and treatments.