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BLM deputy director comes to Idaho to check out the Badger Fire

William Perry Pendley discusses with local officials how to reduce hazardous fuels on public land
Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 8:28 AM MDT
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HANSEN, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - The Idaho Bureau of Land Management had a special VIP guest Thursday afternoon to check out the destruction from the Badger Fire.

Wildfires have been creating havoc in California, Oregon, and even parts of Southern Idaho since September. One of them was the Badger Fire, which ignited on September 12 and burned for nearly a month, destroying more than 90,000 acres of public and private lands.

BLM deputy director William Perry Pendley came by on Thursday to get a tour of the area with local officials and get an overview of what caused the fire. He also wanted to discuss with local officials how hazardous fuels are handled on BLM land in the Gem State.

“Well the president (Donald Trump) is very committed to fighting wildfires, but also making sure we don’t have as big of wildfires as we had in the past,” Pendley said. “Like we saw here, this was an opportunity to see a big fire that happened in Idaho."

Pendley said about 8.2 million acres have been lost to wildfires this season, and 900,000 acres were BLM land.

“That sounds like a lot and it was, but the reason it wasn’t a huge and record-setting season was because we didn’t have a huge fire season in Alaska.”

The deputy director said one way to prevent or slow the spread of wildfires is to reduce or eliminate hazardous fuels on the land like dead timber or dry grass. He also said a lot of public lands have invasive species like cheatgrass and juniper on them that light up like crazy.

“They are invasive species and they shouldn’t be here,” Pendley said. "The president (Trump) talked about this during the debate. He said we have to have better fuel forest management, and that applies to the BLM.

He said BLM’s hazardous fuels program is 50% mechanical, bringing in dozers and chainsaws. Another 25% is herbicides, and about 25% is our controlled burn. Pendley said another way to break up hazardous fuels is targeted grazing.

“We work with local ranchers, so they can turn out their cattle where we need to get the grass down to two inches,” Pendley said.

He said the main thing is to get rid of the hazardous fuels build-up, and the BLM Twin Falls office has “really distinguished itself” in doing that.

“The president (Trump) gave us a target to get rid of fuels on 600,000 acres. BLM wide we did 846,000 acres.120,000 of that was done here in the Twin Falls office,” Pendley said.

Mike Courtney, who is the BLM Twin Falls District manager, said his office has a very active hazardous fuels management program. Over the years they have had a lot of acres burned, and have done something about it. However, he thinks a lot of the reason the Badger Fire took off as it did was because of the dry conditions.

“We weren’t getting many recoveries at night, so it was burning actively through the night, and there was a lot of fuel over there,” Courtney said.

Pendley said the Badger Fire was a human-caused fire, and 80% of the fires on our public lands are caused by people.

“So we need people who come to visit our lands to be more cautious and understand what they need to do to prevent a fire like this,” he said. “We know it (Badger Fire) is a human-caused fire. It is right off a road."

He also said the main thing is no homes or lives were lost in the fire, but unfortunately three historic structures were. Pendley said a lot of credit goes to the local firefighters for their work in getting the fire contained and saving those lives and structures.

“The BLM is a professional fire fighting organization, but we couldn’t do it alone. We couldn’t do it without the help of local supporters and allies,” Pendley said.

Pendley and Courtney said right now the plan is restoring the land with seeding and hopefully some help from Mother Nature, but it’s not going to come back overnight.

“We will get the grasses back soon. We are going to fly seed on it. Hopefully, by next spring with some rain we will see some success,” Courtney said. “But if you look around where I’m standing right now, by the time we get shrubs back like you see here it could be 20 years or longer."

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