Giant forest fires roam across northern Alberta

Strange May blazes burn a third of Slave Lake, Alberta, and threaten to cook the tar sands area-

It’s only mid-May, and it still struggles to get much above 60 degrees here in Eastern Idaho, but forest fires are torching northern Alberta, not all that far from the Arctic Circle. A third of the town of 7000 at Slave Lake burned.  In the general area, many of the giant tar sand pits have been evacuated.  This is near Ft. McMurray.  Temperatures have been in the high 70s and 80s.

Hundreds of homes now just smouldering rubble.  Premier, mayor shaken by scope of devastation in Slave Lake. Edmonton Journal. By Mariam Ibrahim, Ryan Cormier and Ben Gelinas

Other fires continue to burn across northern Alberta.   By Ryan Cormier, Edmonton Journal.

Raging fires stop oil and gas operations.  Hundreds evacuated from facilities.  By Dina O’Meara, Calgary Herald

Climate Change Takes Toll on Lodgepole Pine

The most abundant of all Western pine falls at astounding rate-

Every Western pine from the Yukon to New Mexico is suffering high mortality from unusually severe attack by native insects, diseases and direct mortality from drought and heat. Lodgepole pine, which often grows in vast almost monocultural stands, is dying too.  Almost anyone who lives in the West knows this. In many places the beauty of the forest has been greatly marred for many miles.

Climate Change Takes Toll on the Lodgepole Pine. By John Collins Rudolf. New York Times.

When lodgepole pine dies, the needles first turn red for a year before they fall off.  While red, they burn with remarkable explosive force.  After they are dead, however, lodgepole and other dead conifers do not burn as fiercely as a green forest.  A common misconception is that they do, a mistake this New York Times article perpetuates. Lodgepole are shallow rooted.  When dead they are easily blown over in windstorms.  If they pile up in large “jackstrawed” heaps, these can burn very hot.  Miles of downed lodgepole also form barriers to wildlife migration.

I took this photo of red lodgepole pine near Stanley, Idaho about 5 years ago. Since then, they have almost all died and many fallen over or cut down. They didn’t burn.

Fires in northwest Wyoming

Both prescribed and wildfires are burning-

I think the Antelope Fire on Mt. Washburn is reburning the burn from 1988 or at least some spots immediately nearby that were missed by the big fire. I took many photos of the 1988 burn on the mountain, during and after.

Fires grab attention. Jackson Hole Daily. By Thomas Dewell, Jackson Hole, Wyo

– – – – –
Late season fires sweep Wyoming. By Jeremy Pelzer. Casper Star-Tribune.
From a modest beginning a few days ago, wildfires have increased greatly in Wyoming and at a time  they are usually ending for the year.

Natural restoration advances rapidly in the big Castle Rock burn near Ketchum/Hailey, Idaho

The 50,000 acre fire was 3 years ago-

The Idaho Mountain Express has an article detailing the regrowth in the big burn next to Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho. This is a very popular recreation area, so its restoration is noticeable to a lot of people. Similar articles could be written about several million more acres of burns in central Idaho — burns of the last decade.

The Idaho places where restoration is not going well are the millions of acres of rangelands (more properly sagebrush steppe) where cheatgrass has fueled vast fires, destroying native grasses, forbs and shrubs, creating more of itself for future fires. This year about 3/4 million acres of Idaho rangeland has burned.

Related. Utah has mildest wildfire season in a decade. By jason bergreen. The Salt Lake Tribune

More related. Rain, snow and lower temperatures help tame central Idaho wildfire. Idaho Statesman.

Idaho wildfire update: 312,595 acres burning as of Friday

New fires dwindling with cooler weather.

Most of the 312,595 acres burned is due to the massive cheat grass fire in southern Idaho. The Long Butte Fire burned 306,000 acres since Saturday night.

Idaho wildfire update: 312,595 acres burning as of Friday.
Idaho Statesman

Update Aug. 29 (Sunday)Southern Idaho wildfires continue to grow
However, the fire danger from storms is decreasing, and the weather seems to be cooperating with fire crews.

Idaho Statesman.

Long Butte fire in southern Idaho burns 215,000 acres in one day

Fire moved up to 30 miles an hour at times

Southern Idaho experienced quite a wind storm Saturday night with lightning and little rain. Boise was hit hard with power outages caused by downed trees all over town due to 70 mile per hour gusts of wind. The Long Butte fire started that night and moved quickly to the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument where it burned 3/4 of the monument.

UPDATE: Fire’s progress into Gooding County halted; fire now covers 215,000 acres.

Mass forest fires overwhelm part of Russia

Russian fires unstoppable in abnormal heat-

Russia blames fires on global warming. Moscow hits 100 degrees. New York Times. By John Collins Rudolf.

Russia moves rockets as wildfires spread. Associated Press.

Meanwhile summer forest fires are a bit below normal in the western United States, although air is getting is typical August haze or worse in many places. Numerous soaking thunderstorms have washed over southern and central Utah and Colorado, Arizona.

Numerous forest fires breaking out in northern rockies

Much delayed forest fire season now upon us-

Although there have been a few large range fires, such as the 110,000 acre Jefferson fire on the Arco Desert (INL) in Eastern Idaho, now forest fires are quickly emerging in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, etc.

Wildfire breaks out in Packer Meadows, atop Lolo Pass
. Missoulian.

Fire in Bob Marshall Wilderness now burning 1,200 acres. Missoulian.

Yellowstone Park: Beach Fire continues in the Bridge Bay area. Jackson Hole Daily

Oregon: 2,000 lightning strikes spark about 30 fires. Bend Bulletin

East Idaho: Firefighters close in on controlling Blacktail wildfire. Idaho State Journal

Wyoming: Lightning sparks multiple fires in Bridger-Teton. Star Valley Independent

Here is the master source for national forest fire information.

Idaho National Engineering Lab Fire has not released contamination

Fire on the Big Desert now contained. Radioactive contaminated areas did not burn-

Two stories:

INL: Fire has not released contamination. Blaze skirts Materials and Fuels Complex. By TERRY SMITH. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer.

Posted in Wildfires. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Idaho National Engineering Lab Fire has not released contamination

Range fire at Idaho National Laboratory has burned 109,000 acres since Tuesday

Important sage grouse and pygmy rabbit habitat burning

Jefferson Fire

Jefferson Fire from

Range fire at Idaho National Laboratory has burned 109,000 acres since Tuesday
By KATY MOELLER – Idaho Statesman

Update on July 15.  This huge fire is still burning!

First major Idaho wildfires of the summer

There is a lot of drying grass due to the long wet spring-

Calmer winds ease firefighting on BLM fires west of Twin Falls, ID. Magic Valley Times News.

Posted in Wildfires. Tags: , , . Comments Off on First major Idaho wildfires of the summer

It looks like a very bad water year in Idaho.

Could it also turn out to be another bad fire year? A really bad fire year?

Burned signs on the South Fork Salmon River 2007 © Ken Cole

Burned signs on the South Fork Salmon River 2007 © Ken Cole

With precipitation and snowpack somewhere around 75% of normal, it looks bad for fish and fires this year.

Rocky Barker asks whether it could be as bad as the 1910 fires.

Is Idaho ready for a repeat of the massive fires of 1910?
BY ROCKY BARKER – Idaho Statesman

See where the state stands water wise this year: Idaho SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Report

Breathtaking and misleading fire story in the Missoulian

“Red and dead” forests make extreme fires; but most bug-killed forests are not in this stage-

Beetle-ravaged trees change wildfire behavior in western Montana. By Rob Chaney the Missoulian

Beetles are changing the fire regime in Western Montana. Unfortunately, this story did not get to the key until the end – – “Dead trees will lose those red needles within three to five years. The bare-branch trees tend to be less burnable than either green live trees or red dead ones.” . . . Rob Chaney

These needles are so flammable that they will burn when dripping wet and a cold temperature! In fact, most just killed, and, therefore red lodgepole pine, the most common beetle killed tree, are red for just one year. Then the needles drop. As a result, most dead trees present less of a fire danger rather than more. There are exceptions, such as piles of windthrown, jackstrawed dead timber.

The story also failed to mention that this is not a problem limited to Western Montana. The great die-off extends from the Yukon to New Mexico, making local efforts to deal with the problem with salvage logging or spraying of no use.

I’d mention global warming but all the tea partiers will probably jump down my throat. It’s really too late to do much. The pine forests are pretty much all going to die.

– – – –

Related. Weather wipes out wildfires in Montana. Great Falls Tribune.

Posted in Trees Forests, Wildfires. Tags: , , , , . Comments Off on Breathtaking and misleading fire story in the Missoulian

Arnica Fire Update. Oct. 1, 2009

Post Labor Day Yellowstone construction and fire have made an unnecessary hardship-
Now this in combination with snow has all but closed the Park early-

Yesterday you enjoyed Dusty Road’s photos of the Arnica Fire taken from Yellowstone Lake (on a boat), but Dusty, a local resident, has more to say. Ralph Maughan

– – – – –
Road Closure Intermittent Due to Arnica Fire
Incident: Arnica Fire WildfireReleased: 9 hrs. ago

On Thursday, October 1st, the road from Bridge Bay to West Thumb will be open for visitor travel with a pilot car between 6-8 a.m., 1200-1 p.m., and 6-8 p.m., delays may be expected. Other area roads are impacted by weather. Dunraven Pass is closed due to snow. Madison to Norris is closed due to construction. Snow tires are required from East Entrance to Lake.


Arnica Fire Update  October 1, 2009.

10,700 acres.
By Dusty Roads. copyrighted.

The major problem with this whole situation is a display of questionable management decisions on the part of the park administration.  Since August 17th of this year the eastern portion of the north loop in the park has been closed for the construction of the new bridge at Gibbon Falls which means that ALL traffic through the park must travel around the Grand Loop via the eastern side to the southern segment from the northern portion to get to Old Faithful  or the west and south.  The eastern and southernmost portions of the route had become the only way  to access any of the northern part of the park from the west gate.  For those who visualize by landmarks: to get to the west entrance from Gardiner, instead of going from Mammoth to Norris to Madison Jct. you have to go over Dunraven Pass and then on over Craig Pass via West Thumb and past Old Faithful to get to Madison Jct. or south to Grand Teton NP.  It’s 49 miles from Gardiner to West Yellowstone otherwise.  At this point travel from the West and South Entrances ore cut off from the rest of the park except when the pilot action is taking place.  With Dunraven closed, well, I think most can figure that out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bearpaw Bay fire in Grand Teton expected to have plenty wildlife benefits

Although it was plenty smoky, end of the fire season finds the Park’s largest fire of the year beneficial-

As snow suddenly replaces warm late September, the fires in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and nearby are dying quickly. The Jackson Hole News and Guide reports the the 2800 acre lightning caused fire west of Jackson Lake (Bearpaw Bay fire) cooked things just right for good eating by wildlife next year and later.

Story by Cory Hatch. Light hand on the land: Bearpaw Bay firefighters use minimal tactics to contain fire in Grand Teton National Park.

Posted in national parks, public lands, Wildfires. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Bearpaw Bay fire in Grand Teton expected to have plenty wildlife benefits

Yellowstone/Grand Teton fires having big final run before season ending change in weather

Arnica Creek (YNP) at 9300 acres; Bearpaw Bay (GTNP) 2500 acres; more in the Gros Ventre-

Fires consuming acres, but weather might turn. By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole Daily

By Wednesday morning there might be snow and an end to the suddenly exciting late season burst of wildfires.

– – – – –

Photos of  and commentary9/28 on the Arnica Fire by Dusty Roads.

The photos were taken from boat on Yellowstone Lake. Sept. 27, 2009


Arnica Creek forest fire from Yellowstone Lake. Copyright Dusty Roads. Sept. 27, 2009

Read the rest of this entry »

Incident page on Arnica Fire (Yellowstone Park)

From time to time, this only big fire of the year has cut off the remaining access to the north of Yellowstone Park-

Here is Arnica fire incident page. The fire grew from 4 to over 1600 acres in 4 days. When the fire blocks the road, due to the closure of the other road to the north of the Park — the closure between Madison Jct. and Norris, there is no easy access to the north of Yellowstone Park if you are to the south.

Next Tuesday could be a bad fire day but then also the end of the fire season as a strong and cold front with possible snow will blow in. Meanwhile warm weather.

Currently the southern half of Yellowstone and both sides of the Tetons and points south are filled with smoke. See my earlier post of Sept. 23 (and updated Sept. 26).


Arnica fire on Sept. 24. Source. Mt. Washburn web cam. Public domain

– – – – –

Spontaneous combustion of manure at ranch starts big California fire

These self-starting manure fires are apparently all too common Southern California when it gets hot-

Well . . . another negative side effect of ranching!  Oh, and the location of the ranch where the fire began was kept a secret.

Story in the LA Times.

The Butte Fire page (Druid Peak)

Earlier I posted an article and an update about the forest fire on top of Druid Peak.  Here is the Official page on the fire with current updates, maps and photos.

Fire on Druid Peak is the largest in Yellowstone this summer

The “Butte Fire” at 110 acres is largest in a slow forest fire season inside YNP-

Lightning-caused fire in park grows to 110 acres. Billings Gazette.

Update 9/8/2009. Fire on Druid Peak grows to 200 acres. AP

Update 9/10/2009. Bad news. It is burning whitebark pine, the endangered and incredibly valuable food source for grizzly bears.

Wildfires rage in British Columbia, Alaska

Pacific northwest dry and burning as rest of West has a cool and moist summer respite-

We planned to go to B.C. and Alaska this summer. Glad we didn’t. Instead we stayed in Pocatello, Idaho where a very wet late spring and cooler than normal summer has greatly reduced normal fires and given clean skies.

On the other hand much of B.C. and Alaska have been very dry. Massive forest fires burn out of control, and Oregon and Washington too have recently suffered from extreme heat. Smoke from the fires has resulted in dense air pollution to the north, while most of Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming have escaped the smoke. The winds are now, however, blowing the smoke down into Montana, Northern Idaho, and across the Dakotas and Great Lakes.

Fires have broken out  in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, setting the stage for smoky skies further to the south. Some relatively small forest fires are now burning in Idaho and Montana (just updated), although this season will probably not see many large forest fires due to the still relatively wet wood.

You can follow the fires on Inciweb and the National Interagency Fire Center. Note: these web sites are always on my blogroll.

You can follow air quality in North America at U.S. Air Quality. This site has a lot of photos and graphics.

Stories: Workers overwhelmed as B.C. burns. Rod Mickleburgh.  Globe and Mail.

Out-of-state smoke rolls into Montana: Plume from British Columbia fire lingers in area. By Michael Jamison. Missoulian
Wildfires slow to start this year in south central Idaho. By Nate Poppino. Magic Valley Times-News writer

Fires burning wild across Interior Alaska. Smoke: Two expand beyond 800,000 acres; 30 cabins threatened. By  Kyle Hopkins. Well 30 threatened cabins doesn’t sound like a major event, but 800,000 acres in two fires does.

I should add that the desert southwest has suffered from extreme heat (more extreme than the usual during the summer)

Parks and Wildlife Get Stimulus

Outdoor Recreation, Jobs and Economics Go Together

Parks and Wildlife Get Stimulus
Obama’s massive spending bill funds national park infrastructure and finds innovative ways to improve fish and wildlife habitat.

By Bill Schneider, 2-14-09

Posted in B.L.M., conservation, Forest Service, national parks, public lands, public lands management, Trees Forests, Wildfires. Comments Off on Parks and Wildlife Get Stimulus

2008 wildfire season in Idaho nothing compared to 2007

Idaho’s forests granted a quiet wildfire season-

More than 2-million acres burned in Idaho in 2007. Less than a hundred thousand burned this year.

Story in the Idaho Mountain Express. Just 98,894 acres have burned across the state this year. By Jason Kauffman. Express Staff Writer.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Tags: , . Comments Off on 2008 wildfire season in Idaho nothing compared to 2007

Idaho Statesman: Politicians blow smoke when talking wildfires

Idaho Statesman’s view: Politicians blow smoke when talking wildfires

This editorial is about the giant Murphy range fire of 2007 and the attempt by leading Idaho politicians to say it was so hard to control because too much native vegetation had been uneaten by cows.

A recent report by the BLM and other government agencies said that was not so (despite what must have been enormous political pressure on them).

The Wildlife News recently reported on the study’s release.

Posted in politics, Wildfires. Tags: , , , . Comments Off on Idaho Statesman: Politicians blow smoke when talking wildfires

New report says grazing had “negligible” effects on size of Murphy Complex fire

This is a revised version of an earlier story.

Here is the news release from the Western Watersheds Project.

Rocky Barker also discusses it in his recent blog.

BLM Report On The Murphy Complex Wild Fire Shows That Grazing Has Little Effect On Fire Behavior.

Idaho BLM has released a long awaited Report on the Murphy Complex Fire. The Murphy wildfire blaze burned over half a million acres of sage-grouse and pygmy rabbit habitat in summer 2007.  BLM, ranchers and Idaho politicians had hoped the Report might show that livestock grazing can reduce wildfire impacts. Instead, it showed little to no effect of livestock grazing in limiting fire spread.

In fact, under the hot, dry conditions typical of western wildfires, grazing would have to be conducted to such a degree that only bare dirt, manure and trampled grass remained to make much difference at all. Such severe grazing leaves no habitat value for sensitive species such as sage grouse, pygmy rabbits or other species such as mule deer.
Read the rest of this entry »

Nevada governor chides Forest Service over letting East Shell Rock fire burn

The East Shell Rock fire in the Jarbidge Wilderness of extreme northern Nevada was allowed to burn for “ecological benefits,”* but it burned well outside the Wilderness, destroying some of the last sagebrush stands suitable for sage grouse in the area.

There is suspicion that was done to help powerful ranchers, who want more grass and no troublesome species around.

It’s odd to be on the same side as Nevada’s anti-conservation governor.

Nevada governor chides Forest Service over fire. By Martin Griffith.  Associated Press Writer

* It’s important to remember that nowadays in the interior West as far as wildlife habitat goes, forest fires are usually neutral to good and range fires usually bad.

Three “wildland use” fires get out of control

Aug. 29, 2008. I have added some new updates (in red text)

The idea of letting fires in remote areas burn in order to save money and provide ecological benefits is one of growing popularity, especially given the toll fires are taking on the Forest Service budget (the later most a crisis manufactured by the Bush Administration in order to defund the Forest Service, in my opinion).

Due to high winds, 3 fires in Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming have escaped confinement — Gunbarrel in Wyoming, South Barker in Idaho, and East Sliderock.

There are stories in the newspaper today about two of them. First Gunbarrel. This is a fire we have been following for more than a week due to its proximity to Yellowstone and its size.


Gunbarrel managers drop beneficial use policy in favor of aggressive suppression. Casper Star Tribune.

‘It’s in our backyard’. By Chris Merrill. Casper Star-Tribune environment reporter. Note I have no idea why the dateline of this story is Lander, WY because the fire is no where near Lander.
8-28. Inciweb. Latest release on Gunbarrel fire.
8-28 update. Ash falls on Cody. By Ruffin Prevost. Billings Gazette.
8-29 update. Crews intensify efforts to fight month-old Gunbarrel fire. By Ruffin Prevost. Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau

East Sliderock

Conditions hamper firefighters near NV wilderness. By Sandra Chereb.  Associated Press Writer. This fire burned for a long time in the Jarbidge Wilderness just south of the Idaho border. Now it is threatening Murphy Hot Springs (a remote resort area), the town of Jarbidge, and it is also burning valuable (and rare)  sage grouse country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sudden wildfire destroys nine homes, damages 10 others in Boise subdivision

Sudden wildfire destroys nine homes, damages 10 others in Boise subdivision, Idaho Statesman. One resident was also found dead in the ashes.

This fire happened on a “red flag warning” day, and the winds made it very quick. Rocky Barker has some comments on the fire. The homes and yards had not been prepared to withstand a wildlife (no “firescaping”) according to Barker. The was lots of fuel in the yards and even shake roofs on the houses.

Boise fire was a textbook case of the need for firewise home protection. Letters from the West. Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

Posted in Wildfires. Tags: . 3 Comments »

Crews take more aggressive tack on Gunbarrel fire

Although we haven’t reported on it for a few days, the Gunbarrel fire has now burned a huge chunk of the North Absaroka Wilderness. It has been mostly managed as a needed “wildland” fire, but it is threatening to break out.

Despite its size, it has only cost $5.6 million dollars, much less than fires with a lot of recreational residences in the fire’s path.

Crews take more aggressive tack on Gunbarrel fire. By Ruffin Prevost. Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau

Inciweb’s page on the Gunbarrel fire (for detailed and daily updated information).

Posted in wilderness roadless, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat. Tags: , . Comments Off on Crews take more aggressive tack on Gunbarrel fire

Montana air is now dirty from Idaho wildfires

All last summer Montana’s air was filthy from forest fires in Idaho.  This year has been much better, but enough fires have now been started by lightning in central Idaho and central Oregon that Montana is getting pretty hazy.

Smoke from wildfires turns air ‘unhealthy’ in region. By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian

You can view the air quality in much of Idaho, western Montana and western Idaho on my web cam page.

– – – –

Update. Aug. 21. There have been some very wet storms over northern and north central Idaho and NW Montana the last several days, and continuing today. These have dented and perhaps will end the fire season in those areas. That would be great news of late summer travelers.

How wildlife fared in the Yellowstone fires of 1988

There have been a number of retrospectives on the great fires of ’88 on their 20th anniversary.  Here is one from the Salt Lake Tribune summarizing the effect on wildlife.

How wildlife fared in the Yellowstone fires.

Posted in Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat, Yellowstone National Park. Tags: . Comments Off on How wildlife fared in the Yellowstone fires of 1988

Gunbarrel fire clears out massive area of beetle-killed timber

Gunbarrel still on fire. Long-term plan uses fire to clear forest of beetle-killed trees. By Ruffin Prevost. Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau.

The fire is now 50 square miles and serving to clear out a part of the North Absaroka Wilderness that was a deadfall jungle (not that access was ever easy, given the rugged terrain and lack of trails.).

The North Absaroka Wilderness forms a long boundary with Yellowstone National Park.

Posted in Trees Forests, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat, Yellowstone. Tags: , . Comments Off on Gunbarrel fire clears out massive area of beetle-killed timber

The Gunbarrel Fire moves closer to the Cody-East Entrance road

Winds have blown this backcountry/wilderness fire to the east of Yellowstone Park closer to the East Entrance road.

It was started by a campfire and has mostly burned in very rugged country filled with bug-killed timber, producing a huge plume of smoke.

North winds challenge Gunbarrel fire lines. By Ruffin Prevost. Billings Gazette.

Update. August 6, 2008. Lodges near Yellowstone Park evacuated as Gunbarrel fire expands. By Ruffin Prevost. Billings Gazette.

Grizzly bear pounces on Yellowstone firefighter

Grizzly bear pounces on Yellowstone firefighter. AP. Jackson Hole News and Guide.

Update. August 7. Firefighter back after griz encounter. Billings Gazette News Services.

Wyoming wildfires strengthen

Wildfires strengthen. By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole News and Guide.

Although the unusually early California wildfires have cast a pall over much of Nevada and Idaho for a month, the wildlfire season in the interior is finally underway.

Posted in Wildfires. Tags: . Comments Off on Wyoming wildfires strengthen

Yellowstone Park fire closes part of the Grand Loop road

Fire burns 800 acres, closes road in Yellowstone. By the Billings Gazette Staff and Associated Press.

The powerline caused fire is near LeHardy Rapids. This is the first large Yellowstone Park fire of the season.

Forest fire threatens Red Lodge, Montana

The forest fire season has finally gotten underway in Montana, and the “Cascade” fire is a potential threat to the tourist town of Red Lodge.

Firefighters fear strong winds could send fire toward Red Lodge. By Molly Priddy Billings Gazette Staff

Update July 30, 2008. Wind shift somewhat diminishes threat to Red Lodge. Billings Gazette Staff.

Update July 31, 2008. Ski resort evacuates. By Brett French. Billings Gazette.

Posted in Trees Forests, Wildfires. Tags: . Comments Off on Forest fire threatens Red Lodge, Montana

Western Watersheds Project files expanded litigation in the Owyhee subsequent to Murphy Fire

Last summer, the Murphy fire burned a huge swatch of the Owyhee country in SW Idaho (and northern Nevada). Ever since the BLM has been under intense pressure to do the wrong things such as graze lands that burned rather than let them recover.

Some of the ranchers here have very high political connections. The BLM can’t stand up to them. Litigtion is needed to uphold the law.




March 3, 2008


Katie Fite, Western Watersheds Project 208-429-1679 (W); 208-871-5738 (C)
Todd Tucci, Advocates For The West 208-342-7024 ext. 202
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project: 208-788-2290 ext. 11


Western Watersheds Project Files Expanded Litigation To Stop New Fencing And Close Critical Sage Grouse Habitat To Livestock Grazing On 56 Grazing Allotments In The Jarbidge Field Office Of The BLM

On Monday March 3, 2008 Western Watersheds Project (WWP) filed a series of legal motions in federal district court in Boise, Idaho to reopen and expand litigation against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for taking illegal management actions on hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in Twin Falls and Owyhee Counties after the 500,000 acre Murphy Complex Fire burned through the area in the summer of 2007.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in B.L.M., cattle, Grazing and livestock, public lands, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Western Watersheds Project files expanded litigation in the Owyhee subsequent to Murphy Fire

Approaching: Mark Rey’s court date

This has got to be one of my favorite stories. It is too rare these days that public officials are directly held to account. The court date for Rey is set for Tuesday.

Agriculture chief may face jail time

As the story illustrates, and we’ve gone over before, Rey spent much time with disgraced Sen. Larry Craig and as a former timber lobbyist before being appointed undersecretary for natural resources and agriculture by the Bush Administration. Rey moved to privatize your public land, dismantle the legal safeguards for wild places, and so much more.

Although I am skeptical about the possibility that Rey will indeed be thrown behind bars for this particular contempt, he should be – the lawlessness and public land profiteering personified by this man ought be reprimanded, he’d make a fine example.

Wood River Valley: Wolf howls and water woes. The state of the environment in 2007

The Wood River Valley is a long, many-forked drainage that rises in southern central Idaho mountains and flows southward across the Snake River Plain into the Snake River.

It drains a large area of very scenic backcountry, mountainous frontcountry, and contains the towns of Hailey, Ketchum, Bellevue and Sun Valley, giving the area a much higher average level of wealth than the rest of Idaho.

For environmental, economic and political reasons, it is a part of the state that gets more than average attention.

This article is an overview of “environmental” events there during 2007. Wolf howls and water woes. The state of the environment in 2007. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express.

The biggest story, however, was the Castle Rock forest fire, which threatened Hailey and Ketchum and had a perimeter of about 50,000 acres. Castle Rock Fire brought valley together. Lightning-sparked blaze burned for 20 days near Ketchum. By Jason Kauffman, Idaho Mountain Express.

At the north end of the Valley begins the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, a large parcel of public land, managed by the U.S. Forest Service and set aside by Act of Congress in 1972 primarily for use as recreation and scenery.

Photo of Big Wood River near the southern boundary of the SNRA.

Posted in Fish, Idaho wolves, Motor vehicles wildlife, water issues, Wildfires, Wolves. Tags: , , , . Comments Off on Wood River Valley: Wolf howls and water woes. The state of the environment in 2007

80 mph winds drive rare November wildfire in Montana

Winds whip Montana wildfire into a November inferno. By Lance Benzel of the Billings Gazette.

The fire is north of Big Timber, burning on the plains in grass, juniper, and pine.

Update Nov. 14, 2007. Wind-whipped Chichi fire leaves erratic trail of destruction. By Mike Stark and Linda Halstead-Acharfy. Billings Gazette. It burned 30,000 acres, 3 homes and other structures before snow calmed its advance. Gusts from 80 to 100 mph made this both unusual and very dangerous to fire fighters and others in the area.

Note that a gust of 127 mph from this cold front was recorded in northern Wyoming near the Montana border!

Posted in Wildfires. Tags: . Comments Off on 80 mph winds drive rare November wildfire in Montana

Next year’s cheatgrass is growing rapidly right now

It seems that this year produced a growing agreement on most sides of the issue that cheatgrass is just plain awful and is responsible in part for the range fires, small and large, that swept Idaho, Utah and Nevada beginning in late May.

Some ranchers and too many politicians have pushed, and are still pushing the notion that putting in cows early to eat the cheatgrass while it is still green and lacks the sharp seed heads, is much of the solution.

I took the photo below on Oct. 20 on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in SE Idaho, but it could have been taken anywhere in perhaps a hundred million acres of the Western United States.

Dry and new green cheatgrass near Pauline, Idaho. Oct. 20,2007. Copyright © Ralph Maughan

As you can see, this pure stand of cheatgrass did not burn, but green cheatgrass from the seeds dropped in June and July are already sprouted and growing rapidly. They will continue to grow for a few more weeks, lie semi-dormant during the winter, and begin to grow rapidly again about March 1. After mid-April, it will be difficult for cattle to eat it because the sharp seeds form. Read the rest of this entry »

Idaho’s Mike Simpson picks up Craig’s range ideas

There is an important story in the WWP blog. Idaho’s one kinda moderate member of Congress (Rep. Mike Simpson, 2nd district) is stepping in to fill Craig’s stance on grazing and wildfires.

Idaho Fish and Game biologists expressing concern ahead of winter snows near Sun Valley, Idaho

With the drought and the Castle Rock Fire, wildlife may have a hard time surviving the winter due to poor food availability during the summer and burned winter range. This is true too  in many places beyond the vicinity of Sun Vally, Hailey, and Ketchum, Idaho.

Story in the Idaho Mountain Express. Drought leads to more wildlife sightings.. Fish and Game biologists expressing concern ahead of winter snows. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat, winter range. Comments Off on Idaho Fish and Game biologists expressing concern ahead of winter snows near Sun Valley, Idaho

Northern Rockies fire season just about over

The first day of autumn brought cold and often heavy rains to much of Idaho and Montana which have been on fire since mid-July.

Many fires will smolder on. It’s amazing how once a fire gets started in “heavy fuels,” meaning very dry (inside) logs, it can continue to slowly burn despite exterior conditions adverse to fire.

I took this photo of a very old smoldering log at the Bridge Fire (near Elk Summit in the Bitterroot Mountains) this September. It was early in the morning, the forest floor was damp from dew and the temperature was about about 1 degree C. above freezing (34 F.). Many logs lying in still green grass had been completely consumed without burning the grass upon which they laid. Photo by Ralph Maughan.

If the temperature gets up into the 70s F., and a strong wind blows for a few hours, some of these fires could return to torching trees and even making runs, but days are short now.

Read the rest of this entry »

BLM approves $23M to restore ID, NV land charred by Murphy range fire

Money is coming to “rehabilitate” the vast acreage burned by the Murphy fire. Unfortunately, it will not all be native seed and they want to build a lot of “temporary” fences. These temporary fences turn out almost always to be permanent to the detriment of wildlife.

Story in the Times News. BLM approves $23M to restore ID, NV land charred by the Murphy fire. By John Miller.

This blog and the WWP blog have covered the Murphy Fire extensively. There are also very good photos of area burned on the web site of the Western Watersheds Project.

– – – –

Headwaters News had a quote from the story by John Miller as their quote of the day:

Quote of the day:

“Fencing of any kind interferes with wildlife migration and can be fatal to sage grouse.”

Jon Marvel, director of the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project, on his group’s objection to BLM funds being used to replace fences burned by wildfires.
– Twin Falls Times News (AP)

Wildfire threat continues across West. Idaho, Montana account for nearly two-thirds of major wildfires.

Idaho, Montana account for nearly two-thirds of major wildfires. Disaster News Network.

I do think things are calming down, however, and I am taking off for a while to visit central Idaho.

Returned on September 16. The wildfires did cool a bit, although there were a couple big runs in Montana. McCall, Cascade, and Riggins, Idaho were completely free of smoke while I was there, but the plumes blew, and continued to blow, over very sparsely inhabited central Idaho into Montana, covering almost all of the west half of the  “Big Sky State” with smoke (to which was added the many Montana fires). The motel keeper in Hamilton, Montana (Bitterroot Valley) told they had hardly had a smokeless day since July 9 when the first big forest fires started in Idaho.

Posted in Wildfires. Comments Off on Wildfire threat continues across West. Idaho, Montana account for nearly two-thirds of major wildfires.

Fire closes Idaho 55 to Banks. Castle Rock Fire near Ketchum is 100 percent contained.

Fire closes Idaho 55 to Banks. The Castle Rock Fire near Ketchum is 100 percent contained. By Cynthia Sewell. Idaho Statesman.

The new Chief Parrish Fire has closed 14 miles of Idaho 55, a major route north to Cascade and McCall, Idaho.

The relatively new Grays Creek Fire to the north of Chief Parrish is threatening the high end Tamarack ski area and real estate development.

The perimeter around fires in Idaho this year is 1.6 million acres so far. This is about twice that of last year.

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Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Fire closes Idaho 55 to Banks. Castle Rock Fire near Ketchum is 100 percent contained.

The Red Bluff Fire (photos)

Here is still another Idaho fire, apparently so new it isn’t on Inciweb yet. It’s the Red Bluff Fire.

Lynne Stone of Stanley, Idaho took these photos of its plume yesterday from highway 21, north of Stanley.



Photos copyright © Lynne Stone.

New Idaho Wildfire Fire Grows as Crews Get Handle on Castle Rock Fire Near Ketchum

Idaho Fires: Fire Near Tamarack Grows, Crews Get Handle on Fire Near Ketchum. By Courtney Lowery. New West.

Tamarack is a relatively new, posh, ski area and real estate development west of Cascade and McCall, Idaho.

Note: the huge East Fork and Cascade fire complexes are east of Cascade and McCall.

More on Idaho fires . . . as expected Labor Day was a bad on in much of the East Fork fire Complex. Here are the details from inciweb.

Part of the East Fork complex burning near Warren, ID

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Castle Rock mop up continues, but high winds forecasted

Story from the Idaho Mountain Express. By Jon Duval.

Idaho weather will soon moderate, however, and I think there might be a fair chance of a fire season ending event in several days. Heavy, wet thunderstorms and much cooler weather is predicted.
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Craig, “ecoterrorists”, hidden riders, and industrial legacy

There is no doubt, the hoopla surrounding ID Senator Larry Craig is a well deserved condemnation of hypocrisy that’s been years in the coming and nobody is celebrating his descent more than progressives throughout the Northwest. Now, he has resigned effective September 30.

But the shamefull manner in which a powerful Republican Senator squandered his standing is thankfully failing to completely overshadow just what it is many in Idaho and throughout the West are celebrating:

In the meantime, his actions in backrooms of the nation’s capital deserve attention. Call it a Craig’s List of how to block good deeds, or at least see that they don’t go unpunished.

Read the rest of this entry »

Idaho: Zena-Loon Fire Progression Map – July 15 to August 31, 2007.

Map. Oh my !!

The Zena-Loon is the bulk of the “East Fork Fire Complex” which is now 217, 263 acres. Here is a color coded fire progression map. They seem to update it daily.

Another map I would like to see someone produce is how much of the country surrounding this fire progression map has already burned between 2000 – 2006. I imagine it is a lot, maybe even the majority.

On top of this, the Cascade Fire Complex (Boise National Forest to the south) has burned 242,709 acres. The Rattlesnake Fire to the north (Nez Perce National Forest) has burned 102,212 acres. The Showerbath Complex in the Frank Church Wilderness NW of Challis has burned 130,784 acres.

Much later. Well, unfortunately, as time went by the URLs to the maps disappeared. Webmaster.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Idaho: Zena-Loon Fire Progression Map – July 15 to August 31, 2007.

Wildlife copes with threat of [Castle Rock] fire

No doubt similiar situations are taking place all over the burning parts of Idaho (the Castle Rock fire is not nearly as large as the East Zone fire complex, east of McCall, for example).

No doubt many wolf packs have moved too, out of the necessity of avoiding the flames and to follow the elk and deer. We will probably hear more about that in the future with the wolves killing a few more sheep and cattle than usual, with headlines as big as those about the fires.

Story: Wildlife Copes, By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer

Castle Rock Fire on YouTube (great time lapse video).

Posted in Grazing and livestock, Idaho wolves, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat, Wolf dispersal, Wolves. Comments Off on Wildlife copes with threat of [Castle Rock] fire

Castle Rock Fire battle ends where it began

Castle Rock Fire battle ends where it began. Majority of remaining fire activity is along Warm Springs Creek. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer.

The fire began in Warm Springs Creek, burned all over the place, and now the last major flames are back in Warm Springs Creek.

Castle Rock Fire Perimeter Map. Updated at noon. August 31, 2007.

Posted in Wildfires. Comments Off on Castle Rock Fire battle ends where it began

Fire rages on Baldy, site of the famous ski area

Yesterday was expected to be kind of a “breather” on the fire. Predictions were for little wind. It was not like that at all !

Latest inciweb on the Castle Rock Fire. Link to a series of photos of the fire.

Updates on all the major Idaho fires (from the Idaho Statesman).

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Reid Fire starts near Arizona Creek in Grand Teton

This fire will be monitored and treated as a wildland fire (allowed to burn as long as it does not surpass pre-established conditions).

Arizona Lake and Creek are in the extreme NE part of the Park adjacent to the huge Teton Wilderness on the national forest. Much (most) of the west half of the Teton Wilderness burned in 1988 in the huge fires of that year.

Lee Mercer and I walked through miles and miles of burned timber in the West half of this Wilderness when we were writing our guidebook to the area in 1996-7. I’m not so sure that more burning in the area is harmless, given the wholesale transformation of the landscape and ecology of the area after 1988.

Story in the Jackson Hole News and Guide. Reid Fire starts near Arizona Creek in Grand Teton National Park.

Posted in national parks, wilderness roadless, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Reid Fire starts near Arizona Creek in Grand Teton

Fires and the Idaho hunting season

Idaho Fish and Game has some info on closures and possible effects on the hunt.

Fires close backcountry trails, roads. Idaho Fish and Game.

Posted in The Great Outdoors, Wildfires. Comments Off on Fires and the Idaho hunting season

Middle of the Wood River Valley is under Mandatory Evacuation

Heavy winds pushing the Castle Rock Fire have led to a mandatory evacuation of what amounts to all residents of the Wood River Valley between Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho on both sides of highway 75 which runs up the middle of the valley.

The details are in this story. Mid-valley under mandatory evacuation. Windier, drier conditions challenge firefighters. By the Idaho Mountain Express Staff.

Updates starting mid-afternoon Aug. 26. Flames are bearing down on homes in Greenhorn Gulch. Idaho Mountain Express.

Aug. 26. Castle Rock Fire Near Ketchum Grows, Forces New Evacuations. By Gary Stivers and Dave Chase. SunValleyOnline.Com (mirrored in New West)

Updated Aug. 27. Greenhorn Gulch may have been saved, but fire has burned onto Bald Mountain, Sun Valley’s famous ski hill. Story in the Mountain Express — Bald Mountain on fire.

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Posted in Wildfires. Comments Off on Middle of the Wood River Valley is under Mandatory Evacuation

Guest opinion: Western Watersheds not to blame for Murphy fires

Some time ago, this web site posted the opinion of public lands rancher and state legislator Bert Brackett on the Murphy fire complex.

Here again is Brackett’s opinion. Failed policy based on flawed science has gotten us here. Guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman. Brackett blamed the Western Watersheds Project because it won a lawsuit and then entered into an agreement that reduced grazing by 30% in the BLM’s Jarbidge Resource Area where a good deal of the fire burned.

The Statesman then published a guest opinion from Jon Marvel, executive director of the WWP.

Here is Marvel’s guest opinion. Western Watersheds not to blame for Murphy fires. Idaho Statesman. In addition to the extreme dryness and heat, Marvel blamed it in 100 years of mismanagement of ranchers and the BLM from over grazing that promoted the spread of cheat grass and the planting of exotic grasses like crested wheatgrass which did not, as predicted, retard fire. The end result was more fuel to burn than before cattle and sheep were brought to this land. The livestock also wiped out the green riparian areas that served as barriers to range fires. This included not just green grass, but green shrubs and trees that supported beaver ponds. The ponds created large hard-to-burn areas that were difficult for fires to cross over.

Idaho wildfires cost feds millions.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Idaho wildfires cost feds millions.

The Showerbath Fire

This fire has been burning deep in the Frank Church Wilderness NW of Challis and has received little attention. Some days it has put up very large plumes as this story from the Challis Newspaper indicates, and it has a big impact on wilderness recreation, air quality, and the future ecology of the area.

Shower Bath and Red Bluff fires increase substantially in size. By Todd Adams. Challis Messenger.

Shower Bath plume. Challis Messenger.

Posted in public lands, wilderness roadless, Wildfires. Comments Off on The Showerbath Fire

Castle Rock Fire managers rush to establish lines of defense before weekend weather blows in

Firefighters face race against weather. Castle Rock Fire managers rush to establish lines of defense. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer.

They have been setting many backfires in preparation for predicted high winds this weekend. The backfires burned a lot of country themselves as well as produced towering smoke columns.

Added later on 8/24. Shields of flame. Blaze near Ketchum grows to more than 16,000 acres; only 9 percent contained. By Cass Friedman. Times-News writer

Added on 8/25. Blaze battle continues. Today’s weather will determine how fire goes. Times-News.

Backfire burns up Adams Gulch, a popular hiking and mountain biking area just north of Ketchum. Photo by Lynne Stone

As night falls, wind drives flames to the Fox Creek ridge north of Ketchum. Photo was taken from the Boulder
Mountains. Ketchum was smothered in smoke. Copyright Lynne Stone.

Castle Rock fire near Ketchum, Idaho as seen from Stanley, Idaho (about 60 miles away).
Copyright Lynne Stone

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Posted in Wildfires. Comments Off on Castle Rock Fire managers rush to establish lines of defense before weekend weather blows in

Governor’s political clout makes Castle Rock Fire Forest Service’s top priority

Otter: Castle Rock Fire now Forest Service’s top priority. By Matt Christensen. Times-News writer

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Firefighting near Ketchum, Saving million-dollar homes.

Saving million-dollar homes. Insurance company sends in private fire crew to protect expensive homes. By Matt Christensen. Times-News writer.

The Castle Rock Fire is different from other wildfires in that the homes it threatens are extremely high end.

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Castle Rock Fire next to Ketchum, ID, growing exponentially

Castle Rock Fire growing exponentially. From 30 acres Friday, blaze increased to 12,058 acres Tuesday. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer.

Updates on other Idaho fires. From the Idaho Statesman.

  • I visited the Mitchell Fire (east of Rockland, Idaho) again Tuesday. Due to recent rains in Eastern Idaho, I’d say all the fires are basically out.
  • In case you missed the video of the Cascade Complex (160,000 acres) burning near Warm Lake. Here is that video of the fire raging near the fire camp.

A member of FUSEE uploaded a video of the Cascade Complex fire overrunning a firecamp. From Scott Maben at Huckleberries Online

The Yellowstone Park fires are no longer growing. Here is an interesting map (a fire progression map) of the season’s largest fire, the Columbine Fire near the East Entrance.

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Posted in Wildfires, Yellowstone National Park. Comments Off on Castle Rock Fire next to Ketchum, ID, growing exponentially

Fires cause evacuations near Ketchum, Idaho. Rain does not stop the central idaho fires.

Other Idaho fires-

High resolution map of two of major fires in the Landmark complex, showing their relation to Yellow Pine, and Stibnite.

Aug. 29 For more recent information on the Castle Rock Fire, go here.

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Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Fires cause evacuations near Ketchum, Idaho. Rain does not stop the central idaho fires.

Some photos of the Idaho fires near Warm Lake (South Fork Salmon River headwaters area)

These were sent to me by a local resident. The photographer told me these are typical of “what I saw in that area and it is what burned on Monday.”


Read the rest of this entry »

Columbine Fire in Yellowstone now at 18,500 acres. Rain helps.

The spread of the fire was almost stopped by a modest rainstorm (one tenth of an inch). Conditions for burning are predicted to increase by Monday. The East Entrance road was reopened for the time being at 9 am today, Aug. 17.
The Beaverdam and Promontory fires continue to grow slowly in SE quadrant of Yellowstone Park.

Posted in Wildfires, Yellowstone National Park. Comments Off on Columbine Fire in Yellowstone now at 18,500 acres. Rain helps.

Update on the wildfires of Montana and Wyoming. Aug. 17, 2007.

A fast moving fire burned into Frenchtown, MT. 200 homes were evacuated. The number that burned is not known yet. By Matt Gouras. Associated Press Writer

Note that the Teton Pass area mentioned is not the pass leading into Jackson Hole, but the Teton Pass on the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana.

Posted in Wildfires. Comments Off on Update on the wildfires of Montana and Wyoming. Aug. 17, 2007.

Roundup of wildfires burning in Idaho. Aug. 16, 2007

Updates on major Idaho firesIdaho Statesman

Seventeen fires and fire complexes are burning on more than 632,269 acres in Idaho, the National Interagency Fire Center said.

I visited the Mitchell Fire

I did go visit the Mitchell fire burning in the Deep Creek Mountains of SE Idaho yesterday.

Earlier story (which prompted my visit).

A violent thunderstorm came up just about as I arrived. I ate a lot of dust and smoke. The storm redistributed the fire, which was burning in heavy fuels up the west side of Bull Canyon into higher and higher country. A lot of rain dropped near the head of the fire, which will hopefully help bring this under control.

The fire is mostly burning native grasses, aspen, chokecherry, mountain mahogany, bitterbrush, sagebrush, and pockets of fir. This is great wildlife habitat. The “heavy fuels” should not be interpreted to mean the area needs to burn. There was little or no cheatgrass and the area ought to regenerate well (my opinion) if they can keep off road vehicles off the fire lines they have constructed.

The fire was started from sparks generated by a combine (ag equipment).

I put up some photos on Google Earth.

Burn pattern of Mitchell Fire. Aug. 14, 2007. Copyright Ralph Maughan

Yellowstone East Entrance closed again

It was closed again at 8 pm Tuesday due to a spot fire along the East Entrance road. It is closed until further notice.

The road had been open for 12 hours since the previous closure.

Update Aug. 16. The East Entrance is still closed. Here is the detailed story from the Billings Gazette. Fire jumps outside Yellowstone Park. Businesses see traffic redirected from East Entrance closure. By Ruffin Prevost. Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau.

Here is the latest on the Columbine Fire from Inciweb. It’s now 13,000 acres.

The fire on The Promontory in Yellowstone Lake was very active yesterday too, and my colleague Mark McBeth captured a good photo of it.

Telephoto of fire on The Promentory Aug. 15. Copyright Mark McBeth.

Posted in Wildfires, Yellowstone National Park. Comments Off on Yellowstone East Entrance closed again

Idaho wildfire news. August 15.

Numerous stories today.

Yellow Pine resists ‘mandatory’ evacuation. ‘There was about to be a revolution if they said we had to leave’. By Heath Druzin. Idaho Statesman. This story could be repeated many times around the globe. Local residents are warned of a volcano, landslide, hurricane, flood, fire, etc.. Some refuse to leave and pay with their lives, but often their risky decision pays off.

Forest Service closes upper portion of the Middle Fork of Salmon River indefinitely. By Roger Phillips and Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman. The main and most of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River are now closed to float trips due to nearby (or immediate) forest fires. These are major backcountry tourist destinations for those looking for a scenic, wilderness river experience.

Fires threaten Wyoming highways

Fires threaten roads. By Cory Hatch. Jackson Hole Daily.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Fires threaten Wyoming highways

Otter orders mandatory evacuation of Yellow Pine, Idaho

Yellow Pine is a very deep backcountry town. I visited it for the first time in June 2006. A month later it was beseiged by forest fires on all sides. This year is may be worse, and invoking a rarely used authority, Idaho’s Governor Butch Otter has ordered people to leave.

Story. Governor orders Yellow Pine evacuation. By Heath Druzin. Idaho Statesman.

Yellow Pine on Google Earth. The photos on Google Earth are quite new and you can readily see the burns from last year.

Larry Craig: wildlife, safety, and arrowheads gotta go; cattle – stay.

Here is another great clip of Senator Larry Craig discussing how they need to stop bothering to look for Native American artifacts when they are fighting fires (something they don’t do anyway). I guess he forget that Kyle Prior, chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes was sitting at the end of the table for their news conference on the Murphy Fire as he gave out his misinformation.

Story and video on the WWP blog.

Posted in politics, wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Larry Craig: wildlife, safety, and arrowheads gotta go; cattle – stay.

Mitchell Fire burns Deep Creek Mountains of SE Idaho

This fire has been dumping a bit of ash on Pocatello, but the major threat is to wildlife habitat (sage grouse) and a steep scenic mountain range if they use bulldozers. It’s another fire where there might be contention over grazing and rehabilitation methods subsequent to the fire (a BLM mountain range). Part of the range burned last summer. I visited in June this year, and it looked good except for mixed cheatgrass on the lower benches.

It has grown rapidly, and I’d better go take a look at it tomorrow. I would hate to see dozer lines on roadless Deep Creek Peak.

Inciweb report on the Mitchell Fire.

Meanwhile the Cleveland Fire has been burning rapidly through brush and old timbering in the southern end of the Portneuf Range 15 miles north of Preston, Idaho. It has grown to over 15,000 acres. Highway 34 was closed for a while. The fire has not jumped the Bear River so far.

These SE Idaho fires haven’t gotten a lot of attention in media, except locally.

Posted in mountain ranges, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Mitchell Fire burns Deep Creek Mountains of SE Idaho

Rocky Barker drives another nail in coffin of Craig/Crapo/Otter analysis of the Murphy Fire

If the BLM had only fought faster, if there were not all those regulations to protect the environment and native artifacts, then the huge Murphy range fire would have been quickly put out by nearby ranchers . . . that’s a key part of the tale they tell.

Rocky Barker’s blog today says that “On July 16, more than 1,500 lightning strikes were recorded on the Twin Falls District of the Bureau of Land Management in southern Idaho alone.” Nineteen fire starts were confirmed. The thinly stretched BLM actually put out 15 of the 19 confirmed starts (there were probably more because 40 were called in).

Rocky Barker’s blog: Firefighters overwhelmed by lightning [on Murphy Fire complex]. Idaho Statesman.

Regarding the resources available to fight these fires, it’s time folks start to look at Craig and Crapo’s actions in Congress to provide resources for firefighting. In addition, in recent years monies to fight fires have been stolen from the recreation, wildlife, and other segments of the public land agencies budgets.

Posted in politics, public lands, public lands management, Wildfires. Comments Off on Rocky Barker drives another nail in coffin of Craig/Crapo/Otter analysis of the Murphy Fire

Columbine fire explodes. Yellowstone East Entrance closed.

Sunday was great fire expansion day all over Western Montana, NW Wyoming, central Idaho, and SE Idaho. Among the many fires, the Columbine Fire which had been slowly growing about 7 miles south of the East Entrance, blew up.

Story on many of these fires in today’s (Aug. 13) Billings Gazette. Park’s East Entrance remains closed; Hicks Park fire still east of road. By the Gazette staff.

Photo of Columbine fire on Aug. 12 from near Fishing Bridge. Park Service Photo.

Update. The East Entrance to the Park will probably be opened at 8 am on Tuesday, August 14.  

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires, Yellowstone National Park. Comments Off on Columbine fire explodes. Yellowstone East Entrance closed.

Watch the Idaho and NW Wyoming fires grow

This is the link to the animated satellite image for Pocatello, Idaho and a wide area around it. Click on the link for 1 km animation and watch as the day progresses.Morning finds the many canyons of northern Idaho filled with dense, stable clouds of smoke. Moreover most of Montana is covered with smoke. As the day goes on you will probably see plumes emerge in north central Idaho and Yellowstone Park and the surrounding country. Yesterday, Aug. 12, the tall and long plumes were very impressive by mid-afternoon.

Note some other NWS websites (Missoula?) might work even better.

Update on late Aug. 13. Although they were slow to develop today, the west central Idaho fires eventually put up very large plumes that drifted across the state and over to Montana.

Three fires now actively burning in Yellowstone

Although the Owl Fire has been contained and personnel demobilized, the Beaverdam, Columbine 1, and new Promontory Complex are burning rapidly. All three are SE Yellowstone backcountry fires. Folks will recognize The Promontory, which sticks out into Yellowstone Lake. It is on fire.

Here is the Park’s wildfire page.

The Inciweb Page is usualy better, but it is overloaded and hard to access due to the demand for fire information.

Beaverdam Fire. Info is six days old on 8/12

Beaverdam Fire. Credit Yellowstone National Park.

Columbine 1 Fire. Updated on August 13, 2007. Text is now correct.

More on this year’s Western fires

2007 fire conditions are off the charts

Officials are finding it difficult to predict fire behavior because this year’s data don’t fit any model. Experts say climate change is a big part of this season’s extremes. By Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman.

Busy Week for Fires in Northern Rockies. Record-Breaking Fire Season? New West. By David Nolt.

New fire threatens home in Southeast Idaho [near Preston]; 14 other fires rage. By Tessa Schweiger. Idaho Statesman.

My view is that a century of bad grazing practice, suppression of forest fires, logging with little consideration of its effects (positive or negative) on future fuel conditions are major factors, but number one is the drying and warming climate. This makes the fight against cheatgrass, the need to restore native grasses and forbs, conservation of large trees in unlogged areas, and judicious thinning (not just any kind of thinning) of forests more important than ever. Read the rest of this entry »

New fire in Yellowstone burns south of Sylvan Pass

A thunderstorm started the Columbine fire on Friday. It has grown to over a thousand acres. It is 7 miles south of Sylvan Pass (over which traffic from the Park’s East Entrance passes).

Story in the Billings Gazette. By Lance Benzel.

Meanwhile the Owl Creek fire in the NW corner of the Park has been contained and crews are being withdrawn.

See update on Aug. 12 on this blog.

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Posted in Wildfires, Yellowstone National Park. Comments Off on New fire in Yellowstone burns south of Sylvan Pass

Residents of historic Warren, Idaho urged to flee fire

Warren is a partial ghost town in Western Idaho. There is no longer any mining going on there. Much of the timber for miles around has burned in the last 20 years. Now it is threatened by the Zena/Loon Fire.

Warm Lake, about 50 miles to the south of Warren may burn down too. It is an extended area of summer homes around and near this lake that lies in a mountain valley.

This is all very important wildlife habitat. The forest fires of recent years have done much to stimulate the growth of grasses and forbs, leading to an increased elk (and, therefore too) wolf population. The effects on the streams are not beneficial because the the ground mostly decomposed granite (sand). Erosion sends it into the streams where it fills up the salmon and steelhead spawning beds.

Story in the Idaho Statesman. Residents of historic Warren urged to flee fire (see video). in Warm Lake, a fire might prevent residents from returning for their valuables. By Heath Druzin.

-Update. Early August 11.

Inciweb seems to have collapsed, leaving a big hole in official fire news. Regarding this fire, however, it is one of many medium sized forest (not range) fires that have started in the mountains to the north, northeast, and southeast of McCall, Idaho. This is in Western Idaho.
A number of small former ghost towns in the backcountry like Warm Lake and (gravel road access only) like Warren, Yellow Pine, and Stibnite are threatened. Given dry weather and wind some of these fires could burn together, although so much of this country has burned in the last 20 years that the fuel load has been reduced somewhat (this is just my opinion). Stibnite is the most remote. I didn’t know anyone really lived there anymore.

-Update. Late August 11.

Inciweb is finally back online. Northwest of large town of McCall, the East Zone Fire Complex (three forest fires) has expanded to 86,953 acres. These are the fires threatening the backcountry hamlets of Warren and Secesh. The complex remains just 15 percent contained. The towns of Secesh and Warren as well as historic sites and bridges remain threatened. Inciweb says, Weather conditions are expected to become more severe over the weekend, with lower relative humidities, higher temperatures and stronger winds. Along the ridgelines, wind gusts of 25 mph may be experienced. These conditions will contribute to more active fire behavior. Map of all Western Idaho road closures and fires as of Aug. 11.

Warren, Idaho on the afternoon of Aug. 9, 2007.

Boat trips down the Salmon River from Corn Creek are now prohibited.

The Cascade Complex Fire
has a perimeter of 44,036. This is about 15 miles NE of Cascade. This one is the threat to the Warm Lake summer home area. Extreme fire behavior was reported, but backfires are being lit that might save structures. The Warm Lake Highway (from Cascade) is closed.

The Rattlesnake Fire has burned 57,608 acres 25 miles south of remote Elk City in north central Idaho. It is about 3 miles from the group of cabins named “Dixie.” It is burning along the Salmon River and well up into the Salmon River breaks. So far the fire is completely uncontained. Map from Inciweb.

The Landmark Fire Complex it as 47,058 acres and threatens tiny Stibnite, east of Yellow Pine in Valley County. It consists of 3 fires. It’s 29 percent contained.

Update Aug. 12.

These fires put up huge plumes Sunday (very impressive on Earth satellite). Smoke covered most of northern Idaho and NW Montana. The latest report on the East Zone Complex reports that flames are crowning at 200 feet high on the outskirts of Warren, Idaho. Some buildings now lost.

Late afternoon fire plumes in central Idaho, Yellowstone and vicinity (circled in red). 

The Landmark Complex incident page indicates an inversion has kept planes grounded, and supply is on horseback and mules.

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Western governors declare war on cheatgrass

Western Governors yesterday held a press conference to declare war on cheatgrass.

I can’t help but think back to an article on NewWest describing the importance of words when considering conservation politics – politics in general.

We’ve got a good idea how politicians in cowboy suits conduct their perpetual wars. Now it’s been declared in the West, on up to a million acres recently charred by fire – against an infliction of the range which follows the very ‘prescriptions’ that they call for. They’re chasing their tails, and in the process turning your public lands into their private pasture.
Read the rest of this entry »

Many troubles for the sage grouse

WWPblog has a story about many of the threats to sage grouse.

Here’s a link to the West Nile concerns

This just goes to show how important rehab efforts after the fire will be to get these birds, and a host of other wildlife, proper habitat. Siberian wheat-grass, another non-native very similar to Crested Wheat, is being considered.

This Western Watersheds webpage has a pretty good rundown of the concern.

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Where’s the smoke coming from? An estimated 900,000 acres-plus burning across Idaho

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Where’s the smoke coming from? An estimated 900,000 acres-plus burning across Idaho

Skyland and Ahorn Fires Explode in Montana

These two fires to the south of Glacier NP (Ahorn mostly in the Bob Marshall Wilderness) exploded Monday. In the Great Falls News it said flames up to 500 feet high were reported to have been seen! Highway 2, which follows the southern boundary of Glacier NP is closed.
Skyland fire rages into wall of flames. Eric Newhouse. Great Falls News (MT)

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Senators Craig, Crapo, and Governor Otter blow hot air about the Murphy Fire

This is about the news conference these three had yesterday. It’s on the WWP blog with a short video of an especially revealing segment.

Story in the Idaho Statesman. Idaho politicians blast federal fire management. By Heath Druzin. The dynamic trio didn’t get quite the spin they may have expected in the Statesman.

Update. LTE by Bert Brackett (rancher often mentioned in these stories). Times-News. Fire Fueled by Failed Range Management.

Reply to Brackett. Sent to Times-News by Max Hatfield

Bert Brackett’s Readers Comment Slandering Jon Marvel today was just about the most contrived self serving pile of rhetorical cow manure I have ever read. I sent the following letter to the editor in response.

Bert “Einstein” Brackett’s Rhetorical Cow Manure

Is your neck red enough and are you stupid enough to buy Rep. Bert “Einstein” Brackett’s slander about Jon Marvel? Brackett has attributed the 2007 range fires to Marvel and recommended naming them the “John Marvel Watershed Memorial Fire.” Maybe Brackett has another motivation for this tripe? Read the rest of this entry »

The cheatgrass menace: Utah’s governor willing to spend the money, but can hated plant truly be eradicated?

Finally an article in a major newspaper that almost gets it right about rangefires — it’s the cheatgrass! . . . the cheatgrass was

The Cheatgrass Menace. By Christopher Smart. Salt Lake Tribune.

A couple things that next to be emphasized. . . . larger seed banks need to be created and soon because the demand for reseeding outstrips supply, given all the fires.

In the article it says, “Of the more successful strategies, Pellant explained, is to introduce non-native grasses that can outcompete cheat and then seed with native grasses to restore the environment. But once new grasses have been planted, they must be allowed to take root over several years before they can be grazed, or the cheat will return. And there is always pressure to get livestock back on the range.” [emphasis mine]

In addition, they usually do not get around to seeding with native grasses a few years after they have planted these “non-natives that can outcompete cheatgrass.”

If this menace is to be curbed, more than money is needed. There also needs to be the political will to say “no” to ranchers who want start grazing again the second year after a reseeded burn, and there has to be the will to provide money to do a second seeding with the native plants. It is critical we don’t lot politicians use burns to as an excuse for even more abusive grazing practices.

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Idaho Fish and Game may curb hunting in burned areas

Wildlife took a beating in the Murphy Complex and other rangefires. The article says it may take 30 years to restore the sage grouse habitat. Giving the increasing incidence or rangefires, however, it is hard to imagine 30 years will pass before it burns again.

Unlike forest fires the flames moved so fast that a number of elk, deer and even antelope might have perished when they could not escape. Story in the Times News. Fish and Game may curb hunting in burned areas. By Matt Christensen
Times-News writer.

Note that the Murphy Complex is now about contained at just short of 700,000 acres

New fire briefly closes Highway 2 along southern boundary of Glacier NP

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Idaho Fish and Game talks about wildlife habitat damage from Murphy Complex

This video shows some of the rangefire damage, and they talk about damage to sage grouse leks and big game habitat. The best is at the end when they indirectly counter Larry Craig and the ranchers with quotes such as “Fuel moisture was at an all-time low…. fire burned right through grazed areas …”

76 sage grouse leks, burned with more still in Nevada where the fire burns on the to the south.

Video from the Times-News.

Incident report on the Murphy Fire complex.

Yellowstone’s Owl Fire now over 2000 acres

The one big fire in Yellowstone keeps growing, and now at over 2000 acres has burned out the middle of Specimen Creek, a major drainage in the NW Corner of the Park.

My earlier stories on the Owl Fire.

Update, from Inciweb on Saturday, July 28. Today 12 handcrews were assigned to the fire line constructing direct handline for perimeter control in divisions B, C, D and G. Weather conditions limited fire growth and was conducive to line construction. Little fire activity is expected for the next 24 hours.

All visitor services, park entrances and roads are open. Some trails and backcountry campsites are temporarily closed. 

The fire was estimated at 2800 acres. 

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Craig, Otter criticize BLM fire management

Oh boy, these Idaho politicians acted fast to try to define what caused the fires, protect their butts, and try to get a bit extra for their good buddies out there.

It’s quite a scene — the BLM and 1000 of their staff diverted to help fight fires in Idaho caused not by the Clinton Administration, but by years of mis-management by the BLM which has been essentially run by Larry Craig, Dirk Kempthorne, and the good ‘ol boys they put in charge when Bush took over (like recently retired Idaho BLM Director K. Lynn Bennett). Sure is good Idaho’s ex-governor is now Secretary of Interior.

Story by By Erika Bolstad. Mcclatchy Newspapers. Idaho Statesman. Craig, Otter criticize BLM fire management. Senator blames grazing limits for major blazes in Idaho. Kempthorne shifts staff to bulk up firefighting efforts.

This is a good statement by Kempthorne, and I hope they actually do it. “Kempthorne said his department is working to address post-fire restoration needs, including a new program that seeks to replace the invasive cheatgrass with native sagebrush and species such as bluebunch wheat grass and Idaho fescue.”

Notice he is not talking about using non-natives such as crested wheatgrass and similar species, or worse, stuff like forage kochia. Nevertheless, action needs to be taken to see that he not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

One great advantage these politicians have is that not many Americans are familiar with things like names and characteristics of rangeland grasses. Unfortunately, too ranchers are unfamiliar with their characteristics as well, other than that they are “feed.”

Update: their real goal is grazing without even the few restrictions present now . . . let’s get the last of the native grass before it’s all cheatgrass. Then we’ll be out of business. Even then we can sell the land to some conservation group and let the deep canyons be designated wilderness (the area is crossed by scores of vertical walled, often deep canyons, which some groups propose for wilderness designation).

Charred and scarred: Ranchers blame grazing rules for fire’s huge size

Charred and scarred. Ranchers blame grazing rules for fire’s huge size. By Matt Christensen. Times-News writer.

This story features none other than Idaho State House of Representatives Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, of whom KT has written.

Brackett is correct that the grazing rules led to the size of the fire, but in exactly the wrong way. The grazing rules have led to cheatgrass. The cheatgrass burns, killing the much less fire tolerant native grasses. Then the BLM reseeds with the wrong mixture of grass seed, such as non-native crested wheatgrass and various cultivars of native and non-native grasses. The the BLM doesn’t give time for even their poorly suited mixture to take hold before cows are dumped back on the grazing allotment. Of course, this leads to more cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass grows so fast and ripens so fast that no amount of livestock grazing can put a dent into it. Once the seed head develops, cattle and sheep won’t eat it unless they are to become dead livestock.

Therefore, it’s incorrect for Brackett to say there hasn’t there hasn’t been enough grazing unless he knows about voracious cows that will each thoroughly graze about a thousand acres of unripe cheatgrass a day (or cows that eat ripe cheatgrass!)

Posted in Grazing and livestock, public lands management, wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Charred and scarred: Ranchers blame grazing rules for fire’s huge size

Increased humidity keeps Idaho fires from growing

A relatively new forest fire, Trapper Ridge, is pumping a lot of smoke into Stanley Basin.

There will be a big controversy over grazing when the Murphy Complex and other range fires are out. Burned areas should be rested a good while and seeded with native grass, forbs, and brush to reduce the liklihood of cheat grass spread and the fires next time.

Natives are also much better for wildlife. Cattle prefer them too, which is one reason they eat it to the ground when grazing is not managed well, renewing the abnormal fire to cheat grass, cheat grass to fire cycle.

Fire teams: S. Idaho blaze No. 1 priority, but cooler temps help. By JOHN MILLER – Associated Press Writer

Despite the cooler temperatures and higher humidity, the fire has grown to 623,000 acres.

Posted in Grazing and livestock, public lands management, wildfire, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Increased humidity keeps Idaho fires from growing

Popular Granite Hot Springs (Gros Ventre Mtns, WY) may burn down.

Yet another wildfire. This one is in Wyoming in Granite Creek, familiar to many people who love the nearby Grand Teton National Park.

Updated July 25. News from Inciweb on the Granite Creek Wildfire.

Posted in Wildfires. Comments Off on Popular Granite Hot Springs (Gros Ventre Mtns, WY) may burn down.

Blaze ignites criticism. Ranchers question rules of engagement in Murphy fire

Blaze ignites criticism. Ranchers question rules of engagement in Murphy fire. Times News. By Nick Coltrain.

This is very irritating. Some of the ranchers are blaming the fire on not enough grazing and BLM’s tiny attempts to rest a few areas. The years of abusive grazing are the reason for the cheatgrass spread.

You don’t graze cheatgrass away because it is palatable for only a couple weeks before it starts to go to seed, and it goes to seed anyway even if it is grazed. Try it yourself if you have cheat-grass. Mow it to the ground (to simulate heavy grazing) while it is still green and downy. If there is any moisture at all, the mowed cheat grass will go the seed anyway.

The ranchers are a major reason for the spread of this weed grass that has changed the ecology of the West. They created the bare spots where it invaded and pushed out the native grass that stays green most of the summer.

This fire exploded at an incredible rate to become the largest in the country. What do these ranchers mean the “BLM didn’t react fast enough?” The firefighters are stretched incredibly thin. This is one of scores of rangefires. The sense of entitlement of these ranchers is appalling.

Now that the area has burned, it should be reseeded with native grasses and shrubs and rested for 10 years, but you can bet these ranchers will be using the political connections to be grazing in two years, and even next spring.

The BLM does deserve blame for not restraining the grazing, and planting the non-native crested wheatgrass under guise it was fire resistant. Thousands and thousands of acres of this exotic wheatgrass burned along with the cheatgrass.

~Story on why cheat grass wins~

I just got this email, which is certainly telling . . .

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