The Big Picture by J.T. Korkow: Don’t burn the bird
This past week I heard the west was on fire! Investigating further, I learned there are 78 wildfires covering 1,260,830 acres of land reported in 10 states at the time of this writing, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). For those of you who are not familiar with the NIFC, it is the organization that is responsible for writing and implementing wildland fire management policy. It includes a partnership of five federal government agencies: Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Burea of Indian Affairs, and includes collaboration with state, local, and tribal fire managers. The organization is based in Boise, Idaho, and has federal recognition. It is funded through the Department of Interior, which houses four of the five agencies listed, as the Forest Service is under the U.S. Department of Agriculture…for clarification, though, the Forest Service gets its budget through the DOI.
After being involved with the Ash Creek fire that burned in my area a few years back, hearing this brought back old concerns that were raised by the public back then that the Congressman was going to raise after the fire, had he been re-elected. Because the Ash Creek fire moved across lands managed by the BLM, Forest Service, and Northern Cheyenne Tribes, the ranchers who lived and had cattle grazing in the area back then had many questions on how the fire was handled, or rather not handled, and thus, summer pastures burned along with several privately owned structures. Much of the loss realized during this fire appeared as though it could have been avoided. What was apparent is when the fire would die down in the cool of the evening and was at its lowest threat in the early morning, the feds were either eating or in a meeting till 10 a.m. It was very frustrating and hard to believe that the federally paid firefighters were really interested in suppressing the fire at all, as all they wanted to do was start more fires called “back fires” which usually resulted in just that…a backfire! What many of us did not know at the time, is that the feds really weren’t interested in suppressing the fire, as it was not according to the fire management policy at the time.
According to wildland fire management policy that is written, how and where the fire is originally ignited determines how the fire is going to be handled. Each agency has a land resource management plan. Fire is considered a critical natural process that is integrated in the resource management plan for the landscape, and naturally caused fires by lightening are not managed for suppression if it is ignited on public lands. Such was the case in the Ash Creek fire. It was determined the fire started on BIA land by lightening, therefore it was allowed to burn, even though when it was initially discovered and reported it wasn’t two acres in size with little to no wind to push it out of control. It could have been easily suppressed, and would have been, had it started on tribal land, but because it was on BIA owned land, the land resource management plan allowed for the fire to “burn out naturally.” The Forest Service land management plan cited the same policy, so it, too, allowed it to continue and get even larger. However, 100 plus degree temperatures, 12 percent humidity, unusual gusts of wind, and LOTS of deadfall in the poorly managed forests sent the fire out of control within 72 hours. The fire continued for over two weeks, encompassing over 260,000 acres and costing the taxpayer millions of dollars to protect structures and attempt to control until it finally was put out by God almighty. Several houses and outbuildings burned, around 300 head of cattle perished, and nearly all fences in the path were destroyed along with summer grazing for nearly 10,000 head of cattle. It sure makes one wonder if God put man in dominion over all things on the earth, why did he allow fools to be in charge?
Anyway, leave it to the sage grouse to force the fire management policies to be revised and stronger language for suppression efforts incorporated. Because the sage grouse was recently named a candidate for the Endangered Species list, the Department of Interior was forced to look again at the fire management plan, as wildfires in the Great Basin of the Western United States have increased in recent years due to accelerated invasion of non-native annual grasses, in particular cheatgrass and medusahead rye, which invades the landscape after the sagebrush and native grasses are burned in previous wildfires. It is reported that in 2010, US Fish and Wildlife Service found that the invasion of annual grasses and loss of habitat from fire in the Great Basin is a significant threat to the greater sage-grouse in that portion of its remaining range. Thus, all participating agencies were ordered by Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, last January, in Secretarial Order 3336, to revise their land use management plans and amend to incorporate appropriate conservation measures to conserve, enhance, and restore greater sage grouse habitat by reducing, eliminating, or minimizing threats to that habitat, with more targeted actions to reduce the likelihood and severity of fire. According to the current fire report, it would indicate the government may be a bit behind in their management strategies as far as western range management is concerned. But we may be making some progress. Now, if anyone can get a picture of a sage-grouse standing in the shadow of a cow in the heat of the day, we may make a bit more!
Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:15-17
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Earl cartoon by Big Dry Syndicate for the Sept. 18, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News