ELKO – The Bureau of Land Management presented plans this week for a 10-year program that would install fire breaks and restore rangeland in the vast Great Basin.
The programmatic environmental impact process is expected to lead to on-the-ground projects that will be site-specific but not require individual assessments prior to action. Elko’s meeting Thursday at the High Desert Inn was among several presentations taking place across a six-state area.
Wildlife biologist Kelly Michelsen explained the process and played a video explaining how the installation of fuel breaks in Idaho have helped reduce the size of fires once they break out. For example, a fire last summer near Twin Falls was stopped in its tracks by a fuel break.
“It will protect working landscapes for people that depend on them for their livelihood, and they should protect and enhance the habitat for over 350 wildlife species,” she said.
Tim Theisen of the BLM office in Reno exhibited a map showing large networks of fire breaks and green strips, including many in Elko County.
“As we go through the scoping process and get more comments more areas could be added in,” he said.
Analysis of some areas has already begun.
Dylan Rader of the Elko office said planning has begun on a 2.4 million-acre project in the O’Neil Basin.
“What we’re looking at is a series of roadside fuel breaks, conifer reduction projects in areas where we have P-J (pinyon and juniper) encroachment … along with restoration such as seedling planting in areas that have been impacted by fires over the last 10 or 15 years,” Rader said.
Michelsen said fire protection needs to be balanced with factors such as wildlife habitat fragmentation.
“When you put in a fuel break there’s a potential for habitat fragmentation, so you have to be very clear where we’re going to put these, and we need to be very, very specific in these documents that we’re taking those concerns into account, addressing them and mitigating them so we can continue to keep that wildfire growth down.”
“I think that people are going to notice it,” said Michelsen, who once worked as a wildland firefighter herself. “It’s going to have an effect on everybody, because it already does. Look at the wildland fires, look at the burn starts … everybody is seeing it.”
The assessments should take about a year to complete.
Comments may be submitted until March 1 by email at GRSG_PEIS@blm.gov or by fax at 208-373-3805. Written comments may also be sent via mail to Jonathan Beck, BLM Idaho State Office, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, ID 83709.