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The Sawtooth National Forest Wants To Do More Prescribed Burning

A firefighter holds a fuel canister as a prescribed fire burns in the background.
DOI/Neal Herbert
Bureau of Land Management
A Bureau of Land Management firefighter ignites areas of heavy, downed juniper jackpots during the 2019 Trout Springs Prescribed Burn in Owyhee County, Idaho.

The Sawtooth National Forest estimates more than a million of its acres are out of sync with their natural burning frequency because of decades of fire suppression.

Steve Clezie, the fuels planner for the forest, said where the trees haven’t seen enough fire, like patches of lodgepole pines in the Stanley Basin, and they’re all about the same age and size.

A map created by the Sawtooth National Forest shows where prescribed burn project could occur in its proposed plan.
A map created by the Sawtooth National Forest shows where prescribed burn project could occur in its proposed plan.

“Once we get a lightning strike, for an example, and it burns through that lodgepole, there’s a likelihood that we’re going to basically lose the whole stand if we don’t do some sort of treatment.”

The Sawtooth National Forest is proposing its first forest-wide environmental assessment for increased prescribed burning to help forest resiliency.

It includes parts of the forest north of Sun Valley and near Stanley, as well as the southern part of the forest to the south of Twin Falls. The plan excludes wilderness areas and pinyon pine juniper stands.

Usually no more than 4,000 acres are purposefully burned each year, but the Forest Service wants to increase that to up to 10,000 acres, and potentially up to 50,000 per year, within the next couple decades.

Clezie said this will help prevent large, catastrophic fires, and will also improve wildlife habitat and make firefighting conditions safer for teams responding to fires when they do occur.

“It’s just a night and day difference once you get treatments done on the ground versus no treatments at all," he said.

The Sawtooth National Forest is accepting public comments on this plan through Sept. 24.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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