Picnic tables, the boat dock and tenting areas at BLM’s Log Gulch Campground were all spared from the flames of the Indian Trail Fire which swept along the Holter Lake shoreline in September. Within weeks after the flames were doused, emergency stabilization and rehabilitation work had begun at the campground.
A deer picks its way through the charred landscape at Log Gulch Campground less than a month after the Indian Trail Fire. Thanks to soil stabilization and aerial seeding by BLM teams, wildlife will have new vegetation to browse next summer.
A row of black picnic tables mirror the fire-blackened trees and soil.
In early September 2009, the Indian Trail fire burned across 271 acres of BLM-administered lands near Holter Lake. Though no Log Gulch Campground structures were damaged, campsites and other portions of the campground area were burned by the fire. BLM officials closed Log Gulch on Sept. 10 in order to protect the public.
Snow is now blanketing the ash at Log Gulch Campground, but before winter set in, a crew of 10 BLM employees—six from the Miles City Field Office and four from the Lewistown Field Office fire crews—made sure the soil was stable and hazard trees were removed.
Nearly $100,000 was approved for emergency stabilization of Log Gulch Campground. The funding was based on a report by an Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ESR) team from the BLM’s Butte Field Office which assessed the recreation site after the flames were doused.
The ESR report stated that “the three drainages that flow through the campground and the steep slope above the parking area all burned at high severity, leaving little to no live ground vegetation or live trees.” This resulted in the risk of soil, ash or debris movement, making for unstable conditions for those using or working at the campground.
According to the funding memo, the stabilization treatments, in order of priority, were the removal of hazard trees; protecting the public and BLM resources from debris flows from the upper watershed; protecting the public and public water supplies from mass movements and floods from the small drainages in the campground; and reducing sediment delivery and excessive runoff from BLM lands draining towards the county road.
Thanks to the efforts of the BLM employees from Butte, Miles City and Lewistown, 11.4 acres of severely burned hill-slopes were stabilized and 99 log erosion barriers and 12 erosion check dams were installed. In addition, all burned trees which created a safety hazard within approximately 100 feet of the campground were felled, bucked, and stacked. The teams got the work done at whiplash speed.
Corey Meier, soil scientist with the Butte Field Office and project lead, was very impressed with the work done at Log Gulch. “Because the team was so efficient and effective, they finished what we anticipated to be 10 days’ work ahead of schedule,” he said. “So, we took advantage of their presence to have them work on non-fire related work for the remaining three days, including cleaning hazard trees out of two recreation sites on the Big Hole River and cutting trees to construct a log barrier along a riparian area in Patton Gulch.”
In early December, one more thing remained in the Log Gulch treatment: 175 acres of the most severely-burned areas would be treated with aerial seeding to improve the integrity of the ecosystem.
When the campground re-opens next spring, Meier said the public can expect to see vegetation re-establishing on the burned ground as a result of the combination of slope stabilization/sediment capture and seeding.