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A fire near Twin Falls decimated sagebrush. Fish and Game wants to regrow it.

Two young girls hold sagebrush plant seedlings in front a hilly landscape in southern Idaho.
Terry Thompson
Idaho Fish and Game
Two young girls help plant sagebrush near Walker Reservoir in March 2020 to help rehabilitate mule deer winter range after the 2011 Blair Fire.

When the Badger Fire burned more than 90,000 acres in October of 2020 south of Twin Falls, large swaths of sagebrush went up in flames. The mature plants were destroyed and so were the seeds which tend to rest in the top layer of the soil.

“Once it burns, it doesn’t resprout or regenerate,” said Brandon Tycz, a regional habitat biologist at Idaho Fish and Game.

The best course of action is planting seedlings or aerial planting by helicopter in the winter.

That’s why Fish and Game is seeking volunteers on two days this month to plant 15,000 seedlings in the burn area.

The Badger Fire was a beneficial burn in the higher elevations of the South Hills, Tycz said. The fire touched down in a mosaic, leaving some forest stands intact. And the regrowth there has brought back elk and moose to feed.

But in the lower elevations, the fire burned at a very high intensity and wiped out the sagebrush, which is key sage grouse and mule deer habitat.

A map of the Badger Fire burn area in 2020.
U.S. Forest Service
The Badger Fire burned more than 90,000 acres south of Twin Falls, mostly on U.S. Forest Service land.

“It's one of our top priorities, to reestablish sagebrush as quickly as we can,” Tycz said.

Sagebrush can take 25, 75, or even 100 years to recover after a wildfire. And the dry water year in 2021 didn’t help the seeds planted last year compete against invasive cheatgrass, which is thriving in the northern area of the burn.

Planting sagebrush seedlings – with their roots about five or six inches down – could give the plants a head start in soaking up water compared to the cheatgrass, which germinates in the fall. If the seedlings make it one year, Tycz said, that’s a good sign they’ll take hold.

“Ideally, we're going to build these islands of sagebrush stands and as they mature, they're going to seed out and hopefully start expanding across the hillside,” he said.

Replanting the sagebrush will likely be a long-term effort. Sage grouse rely on sagebrush for food and shelter, so they probably won’t come back until the plant does, but Fish and Game could soon have more information on how the birds are doing in the burn area, following some research being conducted this year.

How to volunteer

  • The planting will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 9 and 16.
  • Fish and Game staff will meet volunteers at the intersection of East 2900 North and North 4000 East at 8:30 a.m.
  • A four-wheel-drive or high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
  • Volunteers should bring work gloves, water and lunch.
  • If you are interested in participating, call the Magic Valley Regional office at 208-324-4359.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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