A Delicate Balance: Restoring The Land After A Wildfire
Twin Falls, Idaho (KMVT-TV) Fire season rages on in southern Idaho.
And, as each wildfire comes to a close the work is just beginning for a team of scientists from the Bureau of Land Management.
As wildfires continue to rip across the southern Idaho landscape, firefighters aren't the only one's trying to restore the balance.
"We're trying to stabilize the area, the soil. We have a lot of different concerns we have to hustle through and we've got fire season happening in the middle of all that," said Dustin Smith, BLM Fire Ecologist.
Smith is part of a team of ecologists working for the BLM.
His job is to repair the land following a wildfire.
"We come out and assess the fire and look to see how it burned, how severe it burned and we try to look at the vegetation that was there," said Smith.
Working on a short timeline, ecologists have to find the right seed, grass and shrub combination for the area taking into account not only the natural vegetation, but the wildlife.
"We have just seven days to figure out what we're initially going to do and about twenty–one days to write the plan and get it submitted for funding," said Smith.
One of their biggest concerns is an invasive species called cheatgrass.
"It's a very competitive annual invasive that likes disturbance, it likes these open spots. Once it gets established it's hard for other vegetation to compete against it," said Smith.
Cheatgrass creates a dense thick mat that doesn't allow other vegetation to grow up through it. It's one of the reasons wildfires continue to grow in size.
"This is what causes the fires to move so fast. It's a continuous fuel bed and it doesn't take much for fire to move through that," said Smith.
But, there's another concern this year.
"With the large number of fires that have been happening this year all the demand for the different types of seeds becomes scarce," said Smith.
"We've had about fifty–four fires on the Twin Falls District burning over four–hundred thousand, roughly four–hundred and thirty thousand acres," said Kyli Gough, BLM spokesperson.
Well above the ten year average of 65 fires burning 172,000 acres.
If the land isn't rehabilitated, cheatgrass will likely take over, which means a larger fire when lightning strikes.
The entire restoration process takes three years, but ecologists continue to monitor its progress in the following years.
Cheatgrass is believed to have originated in southwestern Asia, making its way to this region in contaminated grain from Europe in the late 19th Century.