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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Soda Fire Rehabilitation Efforts Continue

BOISE – An interagency Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ES&R) team of natural resources specialists from across the west will soon release a final plan for rehabilitating more than 280,000 acres of rangelands in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon burned by the Soda Fire last month.

The wind-driven Soda Fire started August 10 amid extreme weather and fuel conditions, rapidly burning nearly 280,000 acres – more than 400 square miles – of federal, state, and private land.  The fire greatly impacted the sagebrush-steppe landscape that supports native wildlife, outdoor recreation, and other important values. Almost all of the burned area is habitat for the greater sage-grouse, with more than 50,000 acres designated by BLM as Priority Habitat Management Area for the species. Three wild horse management areas were impacted, with two nearly 100% burned and 35% of a third burned. The fire has also had a devastating impact to ranchers who lost livestock and other property on both federal and private land.  

The plan will identify treatments to begin stabilizing the burned area, promote the recovery of native communities, increase perennial grasses, reduce invasive annual species, and restore shrubs and forbs.

“The actions we take in the next six months will be critical to the recovery of habitat for the greater sage-grouse,” said Michele McDaniel, the ES&R team lead. “We are working to prepare for procedures that need to be taken this fall, such as seeding to stabilize the soil in highly erodible burned areas. The forthcoming plan will outline these actions and longer term rehabilitation strategies.”
The team made extraordinary progress in developing the rehabilitation plan in record time, and anticipates a final plan being released in early October.

Not only do rehabilitation efforts involve plant and soil restoration, there are some areas within the burn that require hazardous material clean up. Before the Soda Fire, BLM was in the process of acquiring funding to clean up an unauthorized tire dump about 15 miles south of Marsing. The fire burned more than 800 tires, old cars, appliances, empty metal drums, and scrap metal at the site, releasing toxic chemicals. Earlier this month, BLM worked with a contractor to develop a hazardous materials removal plan and cleanup efforts began immediately in order to protect a nearby creek and watershed from the chemicals. The area is temporarily closed for both public and employee safety.  

The ES&R team is also working to purchase seed for the rehabilitation efforts.  The BLM seed buy will be $7 million, which will involve a wide array of annual grasses, forbs and brush that thrive in rangeland ecosystems, will assist the team in stabilizing and restoring the burned area. The BLM will use its National Seed Warehouse system to acquire the seed from warehouses in Boise and Shoshone, Idaho and Ely, Nevada. 

“Seeds are the foundation of any successful stabilization and rehabilitation plan; without them, we’d be battling extreme soil erosion problems and invasive weeds. There is often a specific window of opportunity for rehabilitation efforts and seed planting, so it’s important that we can get seed from our warehouse system, our partnerships with Native American Tribes and contractors who also grow and collect seed,” said Patricia Roller, BLM National Seed Warehouse manager.  

Seed planting and rehabilitation efforts will begin as soon as the ES&R plan is final and required National Environmental Protection Act documents are approved. When the plan is released, BLM will notify the public with a news release and will post the plan online at www.id.blm.gov

CONTACT: Jessica Gardetto (208) 387-5458