DATE: May 3, 2016

CONTACT: Larry Ridenhour, 208-384-3334

BLM to Build Fuel Breaks near Soda Fire Ahead of 2016 Fire Season

-- Photo by Ken Miracle

2015 Soda Fire — Photo by Ken Miracle

This week, Bureau of Land Management officials will begin installing emergency fuel breaks along roads in the low country of Owyhee County to reduce the threat of wildfire. The project is part of the emergency rehabilitation efforts for last year’s 280,000-acre Soda Fire.

The Soda Fire burned more than 400 square miles of federal, state, and private lands in southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon last August. It greatly impacted the sagebrush-steppe landscape that supports native wildlife, outdoor recreation, and other important values.

“A mature stand of sagebrush takes decades to reestablish, and these fuel breaks will help to reduce the size and frequency of fire in the burned area and improve access for firefighters,” said Michelle Ryerson, manager of BLM’s Owyhee Field Office.  “Putting these fuel breaks in now, ahead of this fire season and while we work on longer term fuel break treatment plans, will improve the odds that this area won’t burn again and can make a full recovery.”

The emergency fuels break project is designed to remove unburned vegetation on public lands near homes and structures. Fuel breaks will be established primarily through maintenance and improvement of up to 25 miles of existing roads. The BLM will implement about 1.5 miles of targeted grazing and shrub mowing treatments along the road north of the Hemingway Butte Recreation Area to protect nearby private property and upslope treatment investments.  The BLM is conducting these treatments while it completes a thorough analysis of the larger proposed fuel break project through an Environmental Assessment, which will be released for public comment later this month.

  • Map on proposed fire breaks.

Almost all of the Soda Fire burn area was habitat for the greater sage-grouse, with more than 50,000 acres designated by BLM as Priority Habitat Management Area for the species. The fire also had a devastating impact to ranchers who lost livestock and other property on both federal and private land.

A team of more than 40 natural resource specialists has been working since fall to stabilize and rehabilitate the burned area and reduce threats to life, property, and resources on BLM-managed lands in both Idaho and Oregon. Treatments to date have included aerial and drill seeding, herbicide treatments, hazardous materials clean-up, fence construction and other measures.

The treatments will include construction of about 2.5 miles of fence in the Hemingway Butte Recreation Area.  While treatments are underway, recreationists should be alert for places where fences will cross the trails and sand washes and leave gates as they are found.  These new fences will be temporary and will be removed when targeted grazing is complete.

  • The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s mission is to manage and conserve the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations under our mandate of multiple-use and sustained yield.In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.