The U.S. Bureau of Land Management could develop up to 11,000 miles of fire fuel breaks in a 223-million-acre area in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.
BLM on June 21 released the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Fuel Breaks in the Great Basin, opened a 45-day comment period and announced a series of hearings in affected states.
Fire breaks are designed to break up swaths of cheatgrass and other fine fuels associated with big, fast-moving range fires. Proponents say they can slow a fire’s progress, reduce flame heights and improve firefighter access. Approaches may include mowing, creating a strip — of either bare ground or replacement plants — or intensely grazing a targeted area.
BLM developed four alternatives, including taking no action, based on comments received during an initial scoping period. The agency said in a news release that its preferred alternative involves placing fuel breaks strategically along existing roads and BLM rights of way.
Executive Order 13855 and Secretary’s Order 3372 direct Interior and Agriculture departments to carry out policies that use active management to improve forest and rangeland health, reduce hazardous fuel loads, mitigate fire risk, and boost communities’ safety and stability.
“Fuel breaks have proven to be very effective in slowing rangeland wildfires, making them easier and safer for wildland firefighters to control,” BLM Idaho State Director John Ruhs said. “We believe that creating a system of fuel breaks will help us enhance and improve our working landscapes.”
Costs to carry out a fuel-breaks plan are yet to be determined, and in part will reflect how each is designed and where, as well as the method used to build it, BLM Idaho Public Affairs Specialist Ken Frederick said in an interview. Streamlined local planning is anticipated because field offices will be able to use guidance that emerges from the approval process.
Comments are due to BLM at midnight Mountain Aug. 5. Upcoming meetings, to start at 5 p.m. local time, include:
• California: July 10, BLM Eagle Lake Field Office, 2550 Riverside Drive, Susanville.
• Idaho: July 9, Red Lion Downtowner, 1800 W. Fairview Ave., Boise; July 16, BLM Twin Falls District Office, 2878 Addison Ave., Twin Falls; July 17, Idaho Falls, location to be determined, information available at 208-524-7500.
• Oregon: July 8, Harney County Community Center, 478 N. Broadway Ave., Burns; July 11, BLM Lakeview District Office, 1301 S. G St., Lakeview.
• Washington: July 10, Spokane, location to be determined, information available at 509-536-1200.