Interior’s BLM analyzes 11,000 miles of Fuel Breaks in the Great Basin to Combat Wildfires
Boise, Idaho – Today, the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Fuel Breaks in the Great Basin for a 45-day public comment period. This Draft Programmatic EIS analyzes a system of up to 11,000 miles of strategically placed fuel breaks to control wildfires within a 223 million-acre area that includes portions of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.
“The Department of the Interior is dedicated to leveraging all of its assets to reduce wildfire risk and safeguard western communities,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “We look forward to receiving feedback from the public on this effort which promises to make a real difference in reducing the wildfire threat.”
“Wildfires devastate forests, rangeland and communities across Idaho and throughout the West, and without strategic planning they’re likely to continue in the years ahead,” said Casey Hammond, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “With this initiative and others like it, we’re working proactively to curb wildfires’ destruction and make it safer and more effective for firefighters to protect people and property.”
Large, unbroken swaths of grasses, brush and other vegetation have provided a continuous supply of fuel for the recent catastrophic rangeland wildfires that have burned across the Great Basin states. The concept behind fuel breaks is to break up or fragment continuous fuels by reducing vegetation in key locations. When a wildfire burns into a fuel break, the flame lengths decrease and its progress slows, making it safer and easier for firefighters to control. The fuel breaks would be strategically placed along roads and rights-of-way on BLM-administered lands.
Tools used to create fuel breaks could include brown strips - areas where all vegetation has been removed; green strips - areas where vegetation that is more flammable has been replaced with less flammable vegetation; and mowing or targeted grazing depending on the locations and vegetation. BLM developed four alternatives, including the No Action Alternative, based on comments received during the initial scoping period.
The proposed treatments are part of a larger national wildfire reduction strategy guided by President Trump’s Executive Order 13855 – Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk, as well as Secretary’s Order 3372 – Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land through Active Management. The two orders direct DOI and Department of Agriculture agencies to implement policies to improve forest and rangeland management practices by reducing hazardous fuel loads, mitigating fire risk and ensuring the safety and stability of local communities through active management on forests and rangelands.
The preferred alternative identified in the Draft Programmatic EIS would create up to 11,000 miles of new fuel breaks within a 223 million-acre area that includes portions of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah. Fuel breaks would be reseeded, using both native and non-native plant species throughout the project area.
“Fuel breaks have proven to be very effective in slowing rangeland wildfires, making them easier and safer for wildland firefighters to control,” said John Ruhs, State Director for BLM Idaho, which is hosting the Great Basin Fuel Breaks EIS Team. “We believe that creating a system of fuel breaks will help us enhance and improve our working landscapes.”
The BLM is seeking public input to ensure that all aspects of developing a system of fuel breaks are analyzed. The BLM will accept written comments on the Draft Programmatic EIS and will hold a series of public meetings to gather public comment.
Public meetings will be held from 5-7 p.m. at the following locations:
- July 10: BLM Eagle Lake Field Office, 2550 Riverside Dr., Susanville, CA 96130
- July 9: Red Lion Boise Hotel, 1800 W Fairview Ave., Boise, ID 83702
- July 16: BLM Twin Falls District Office, 2878 Addison Ave., Twin Falls, ID 83301
- July 17: Pinecrest Event Center, 560 E Anderson St, Idaho Falls, ID 83401
- July 9: City of Reno (California Building), 75 Cowan Dr, Reno, NV 89509
- July 16: Red Lion Inn (High Desert Inn), 3015 Idaho St., Elko, NV 89801
- July 17: Bristlecone Convention Center, 150 Sixth Street Ely, NV 89301
- July 8: Harney County Community Center, 478 N Broadway Ave., Burns, OR 97720
- July 11: BLM Lakeview District Office, 1301 South G Street, Lakeview, OR 97630
- July 18: Hampton Inn & Suites, 307 North Admiral Byrd Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84116
- July 18: Heritage Center Festival Hall, 105 N. 100 E. Cedar City, UT 84720
- July 10: Mirabeau Park Hotel and Convention Center, 1100 N. Sullivan Road, Spokane Valley, WA 99037
An electronic copy of the Draft Programmatic EIS and associated documents is available on the BLM Land Use Planning and NEPA register at https://go.usa.gov/xnQcG. For comments to be considered, they must be received by the BLM no later than midnight MST on August 5, 2019.
Prior to including your phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your written comment, you should be aware that your entire comment, including your personal identifying information, may be made publicly available at any time. While you can request we withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
Background on DOI’s Wildland Fire Prevention Efforts
In 2018, the Department of the Interior (DOI) worked closely with partners on 2,500 treatment projects to remove excess burnable vegetation on more than 1.2 million acres of DOI- and tribally-managed lands. Another 170,000 acres were managed for resource purposes. These efforts helped to reduce wildfire risk in some of the most fire-prone areas of the country.
The DOI continues to be the leader in the research, development, and practical deployment of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, on wildland fire management operations. With the largest drone program outside of the Department of Defense, the DOI uses drones to detect hotspots around fires, improve mapping, and monitor fire operations for improved safety. In 2018, the DOI conducted 1,552 drone missions on 200 individual wildfires, doubling last year’s total.
In 2019, the DOI plans to deploy nearly 4,500 firefighting personnel, 500 tribal firefighters, 151 smokejumpers, 18 interagency hotshot crews and 4 Tribal hotshot crews. Firefighters will have over 600 pieces of specialized equipment available for use, including engines, water tenders, bulldozers, and other equipment. Aviation assets play a critical role in efforts to manage wildfires, and the DOI will have access to 23 single engine air tankers, 6 water scoopers, 41 Type 1, 2 and 3 helicopters, and a number of other aviation resources.
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in the 11 Western states and Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. In fiscal year 2018, the diverse activities authorized on BLM-managed lands generated $105 billion in economic output across the country. This economic activity supported 471,000 jobs and contributed substantial revenue to the U.S. Treasury and state governments, mostly through royalties on minerals.