Previously we looked at how strained budgets, WUIs or Wildland/Urban Interfaces and safety priorities shape the policies for wildfire prevention and suppression on the Bighorn National Forest.
Today we will discuss how the landscape itself dictates how and where or even if mechanical treatments can be done.
Resource Staff Officer Bernie Bernong with the BHNF, said out of 650,000 total acres on the forest, only about 100,000 acres have historically been mechanically treated for wildfire fuels mitigation and/or timber thinning or harvesting.
He said the many reasons for that range from topography to just plain economics.
Bernong's belief is that the Rock Creek/Gilead, Piney Creek and many other drainages in the Bighorns will never be economically viable for logging or mechanical treatments, and he believes the area was originally recommended for wilderness designation because historically it had never been logged.
The Gilead Fire was more af a “natural fire,” they said, as opposed to the Yellowstone Fires back in 1988 where years of policies led to ground fuels accumulation that contributed to some pretty destructive fires in that ecosystem.
They called the Gilead fire area a “mosaic” with some areas burned pretty significantly with others were barely burned and everything in between.
Bernong said the last large-scale fire in the area happened in the 1880s, so this fire was just at the beginning of the 100 to 300 year natural fire cycle of a lodgepole pine forest.
He said fire in the area is inevitable but they can hopefully be managed.
It is never the policy of the Forest Service to “let it burn,” they said. Even when certain natural fires are managed to help clean ground fuels or for other reasons, they are always monitored very closely. This year, with conditions as explosive as they were, all fires were designated for suppression. This was not the year to “manage” a wildfire, District Ranger Mark Booth said.
Tomorrow we will look at the future of the Gilead area and what we can expect to see there in the coming years.
To see part one in this series, click here.