BLM Fuels Program in Idaho
What are fuels treatments?
In August 2002, the Healthy Forests Initiative
(HFI) was launched by President George W. Bush with the intent of reducing the risk to people, communities, and the environment posed by severe wildfires. By protecting forests, woodlands, shrublands, and grasslands from unnaturally occurring, intensive, and destructive wildfires, the HFI helps to increase pubic and firefighter safety, improve the condition of our public lands, and conserve and protect landscape attributes valued by our society. All projects must comply with federal regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act
, meaning that each project goes through an environmental assessment process before the project is implemented.
The HFI outlined a system of fuels projects. These projects are designed to help protect natural resources and increase safety for firefighters and the public by reducing vegetation in key areas.
What are fuels?
Fuels are any type of combustible material. The primary objective of hazard fuels reduction or vegetation treatments is to remove enough of this fuel to reduce the risk posed by wildfire. In general, fuels treatments reduce surface fuels and/or maintain healthy forests using thinning and limbing techniques. Treatments have been proven to successfully lessen the severity and threat of wildfires to the public and firefighter safety as well as making fire suppression easier.
What kinds of projects are planned for Idaho?
There are four basic types of fuels treatments for fire management:
Mechanical treatments are those projects involving the use of anything motorized such as chainsaws, dozers, and/or chippers.
A mechanical fuels treatment with a chainsaw
Prescribed fire treatments are those projects which involve igniting a fire under very restricted and conditional criteria in effort to protect, maintain, or restore resources or conditions.
Fire use treatments involve projects which utilize natural ignitions and manage these fires appropriately and to our benefit.
Still other types of treatments exist including seeding and biological control.
When do treatments occur?
Timing is everything when it comes to fuels treatments. Prescribed fire must be done during very specific windows, when the weather is just right. Mechanical treatments are usually done when the weather is favorable but not too hot. Many planned projects rely on specific weather conditions. Projects are often postponed or moved forward in order to fit the right predicted weather expectations for the treatment.
What about smoke?
The need to use prescribed fire, or other tools, to reduce the risk of large, severe wildland fires, particularly in urban interface areas, is driven home virtually every year when the summer season brings wildland fires. Prescribed fires do create smoke, but fire managers try to light fires when the weather will move the smoke out of the area (however, this cannot always be guaranteed, as the weather is often unpredictable). Locally, atmospheric conditions are monitored closely before ignition to maximize smoke dispersion. Factors evaluated include wind direction and speed, atmospheric stability, and long-range weather forecasts. Yet even in favorable conditions, the air may still become smoky, especially at night. Often, although the air is smoky, it still meets federal air quality standards. Even though the air may be smoky, it means that the prescribed burn is doing its job in creating safer conditions for homeowners, the public, and firefighters.
To ensure that air quality meets federal and state standards and to lessen impacts from prescribed fire smoke, public land managers and regulatory agencies in Idaho and Montana have formed a partnership, known as the Montana/Idaho State Airshed Group
. It coordinates daily ignitions to facilitate compliance with air quality standards.
Planning a Visit
If you are planning to visit a certain area of public lands, find out about possible fuels projects in the area by contacting your local BLM Office. Some areas may be temporarily closed while projects are in motion to provide for both public and firefighter safety.