Wildland fire management is an important program in the Challis Field Office. Fortunately, fire activity due to unplanned ignitions has been low on BLM managed lands in the Challis region; few acres have been affected and fire intensities have been low. Based on the last fire activity planning cycle (1980-1991), the Challis Field Office averaged 20 fires per year and 250 acres burned annually. The largest fire reported was 875 acres and the majority of fires were less than 0.5 acres. Forty percent of all unplanned fires were human-caused, which were generally associated with rural dumps and some agricultural burning. The remaining 60 percent were caused by lightning.
Idaho BLM’s fire management program has four major components: wildland fire suppression, fuels treatment, fire rehabilitation and community assistance and protection. The overarching goals and objectives for these components are established both in national policy and in land use plans prepared for the Challis Field Office. Implementation strategies, priorities and procedures are then developed in more detailed Fire Management Plans (FMPs), which are prepared for each Idaho BLM district office. The Challis FMP was prepared in 2004 and addresses fire management in the Challis Field Office.
Fire Management Objectives
The Challis Field Office is divided into regions called Fire Management Units (FMUs). Three FMUs have been identified: Challis, Donkey Hills and East Fork. FMUs are identified for distinct vegetation communities in order to control fires effectively in different regions. Each FMU is prioritized based on the four fire management components.
BLM’s overarching wildland fire suppression priorities are: 1) protection of firefighter and public safety and 2) protection of property and valuable resources. The Challis FMP further refines and applies these priorities to the Field Office. The priority resources for fire suppression in the Challis Field Office are: Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas and adjacent landowner property and improvements, special status species and designated critical habitat, crucial wildlife habitat, riparian habitat conservation areas, areas with highly erodible soils, cultural resources, BLM capital improvements associated with all resource programs, and “fire control” areas. “Fire control” areas are strict suppression areas in the Field Office, such as the Challis Municipal Watershed area. The majority of the field office has conditional suppression response. In the event of multiple ignitions, wildland fires threatening WUI areas will always receive the highest priority.
Wildland Fire Use
The Challis RMP directs resource managers to identify where resource management objectives could be met through the use of wildland fire to enhance ecosystem health, function, and biodiversity. The RMP accommodates WFU in “conditional” suppression areas pending site-specific NEPA analysis. Areas above 7600’ elevation within the East Fork and Donkey Hills FMUs are designated as potential WFU areas due to a relatively better overall resource condition, fewer constraints, and proximity to other potential WFU areas (non-BLM managed lands).
Wildfire Suppression Responsibility
Although the Challis Field Office establishes the priorities for fire management on its public lands, the Field Office does not have responsibility to conduct wildfire suppression. Wildfire suppression on public lands within the Challis Field Office is conducted by the Salmon and Challis National Forests under an interagency agreement. These forests provide initial attack for fires occurring on 700,000 acres (88.3%) of the 792,567 acres encompassing the region.
The Role of Prescribed Burns
In the Challis Field Office, prescribed burning has only been used on a limited basis. Since 1980, approximately 3,234 acres in 13 prescribed burns have been treated. Challis BLM performs prescribed burns in plant community areas that would benefit from fire in order to sustain healthy ecosystems.
Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR)
ESR plans are prepared after a wildland fire event and are intended to address site specific needs and promote site recovery. ESR priorities in the Challis Field Office are: 1) to protect riparian habitats and 2) to protect upland watershed values.
The Challis Field Office will adopt the community assistance/protection priorities as identified in the Custer County WUI Fire Mitigation Plan (Custer County 2005) approved by the Custer County commissioners.
Challis Field Office | 1151 Blue Mountain Road | Challis, ID 83226
208-879-6200 | Fax: 208-879-6219 | Office hours: 7:45am - 4:30pm, M-F