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Idaho wildfires burn even managed areas

Wildfires scorched even areas of Idaho forests that were managed to reduce the intensity of wildfires, experts say. While fuel treatment may help, it is not a panacea, they say.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho wildfires burned so hot this summer they scorched even intensely-managed areas, a sign climate change, hot temperatures and extremely dry fuels may trump even man’s best efforts to put a dent in forest blazes.

The Idaho Statesman reports the Elk Complex Fire in August burned 6,000 acres of intensively managed state endowment forests, in addition to nearby Boise National Forest that had recently been logged.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Jim Risch have called for a return to more-aggressive logging practices like those that were prevalent in the 20th century, on grounds it will help reduce the intensity of wildfires.

While fuel treatment may help, Penny Morgan, a fire ecology professor at the University of Idaho, says such activities aren’t a panacea for forest managers when they are confronted with extreme conditions.

“Often, but not always, fuel treatment works,” said Penny Morgan, a fire ecology professor at the University of Idaho. “They are not 100 percent effective.”

Case in point: Tim Brown, a logger from Emmett, had recently completed the White Flat logging contract on the Boise National Forest near Prairie. When the Elk Complex Fire roared through, however, the trees Brown had left behind all nearly burned to the ground.

“That timber sale completely burned up,” said Dave Olson, a Boise National Forest spokesman.

The same thing happened on nearby state land.

“There is little that land managers can do to prevent that kind of intense fire behavior,” said Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz.

The conventional wisdom has long been that managed areas are less-susceptible to intense, stand-burning wildfires.

It’s a theory borne out by experiences during the last 20 years.

For instance, a prescribed fire — meant to burn excess fuel lying around on the ground — in the Boise National Forest was credited with helping firefighters get a handle on the 1992 Foothills Fire after it consumed more than 250,000 acres north of U.S. Interstate 84 between Boise and Mountain Home.

Paper and wood-products maker Boise Cascade also displayed success, as fires that move from public land to the company’s managed property “dropped to the ground.”

But this year’s fires give credence to arguments of some forest scientists — and politicians — that a changing climate, not forest fuels, are driving the growth and fierceness of fires, as well as extending the duration of the West’s fire seasons by weeks.

Earlier this summer, for example, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Idaho’s southern neighbor, blamed climate change for fires that had encroached into areas he said had never before burned.

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com



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