Idaho Falls Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture

8-2-17 LMS

The Salmon Challis National Forest has been rated by the Journal of Environmental Management as ranking fifth in the nation for fire risk. 

Fuels Management Specialist for the North Fork Ranger District Wade McPhetridge told the August 2 meeting of the Salmon City Council that the only areas with a higher fire risk ranking are three forests in California and the southeast region of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.

McPhetridge attended the meeting to update the council on his ongoing study of Jesse Creek which is Salmon’s Municipal Watershed. The area is the town’s only barrier from catastrophic fire should one ignite to the west and is itself tremendously overloaded with down and dead fuels. It has been rated as one of the state’s two most fire threatened areas and in turn has for years been a number one threat to the city’s water supply. It’s the job of McPhetridge and his team to decide how best to eliminate the fire risk.

Knowing the area’s history of fire behavior and potential entrapment is a key. He and retired Forest Service Fire Specialist Lynn Bennett showed the council a training video, being used nationally, about fire behavior in Lemhi County. In the year and a half McPhetridge has been studying the extreme terrain of the watershed he has developed extensive records of wind directions, average diameter of trees in each given area, tree species composition, access routes and even possible camp sites for workers when the various methods of fuel treatment are decided and actually commence. He mentioned that the old Memorandum of Understanding between the city of Salmon and the Forest Service would not allow any camping in Jesse Creek. The MOU would also not allow for any noxious weed treatment should weed seeds be tracked into the area by the workers.

He said he is still looking for possible timber harvest areas however; due to average tree size, percentage of slope plus road disrepair and access, the idea of harvesting is becoming more of a challenge. He said some of the old temporary roads might be decommissioned. He said the ‘fuel modeling’ study is aimed at what would be the best water delivery for Salmon’s water supply.

In his on-the-ground travels he has found stands of Aspen trees at the old Jesse Creek-Forest Service compound area. McPhetridge is working with the Idaho Fish and Game Department regarding possible treatment of Mistletoe infested Douglas Fir stands in that area. Thinning the stands would allow more sun and soil heat for the Aspen.

The study with its proposed actions should be completed by this September. Next comes the scoping phase followed by a National Environmental Protection Act review of proposed forest treatments. The first treatment measures could begin by the late fall of 2018. Contracting for thinning services would be in 2019.

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