53,741 Fires; 3,788,883 Acres Burned So Far

Liberty Matters News Service

July 25, 2007

Western forests and prairies are ablaze again. As of July 20, there have been 53,741 fires in the western United States since January 1.

The fires have burned 3,788,883 acres and there are months of warm weather yet to go. This year's fires will probably surpass last year's record 4,676,830 acres of burned timber and destroyed grasslands, not to mention habitat of untold numbers of endangered species. Ranchers are seeing their summer range go up in flames and they are hot under the collar about government mismanagement of the public lands.

"The way we manage our resources today is to let it burn," said Harney County, Oregon Commissioner Jack Drinkwater of Burns. "We need to go back to the days when we logged and let the cattle in there to eat the grass. Then there wouldn't be all that fuel for these catastrophic fires," he said.

Oregon's U. S. Rep. Greg Walden visited the site of the huge Egley Complex Fire after being deluged by calls from angry constituents. Walden told a crowd of about 50 ranchers, agency personnel and concerned citizens the law needs to be changed to keep environmentalists from blocking forest and range management techniques.

"We need to get to the fire, put out the fire and get in to salvage," Walden said. "190 million acres of land nationwide need treatment."

Idaho ranchers have also been hit hard as the fire in the 975 square mile Murphy Complex has killed unknown numbers of cattle.

"This didn't have to happen," said Rep. Bert Brackett to The Times-News of Twin Falls as he stood over the charred body of a cow. "Had more cattle been allowed to graze, there would have been less available fuel." stated Bracket.

Jon Marvel, executive director of the Idaho-based environmental group Western Watersheds Project, disagreed. "There is no scientific evidence that cattle or sheep grazing prevents fires at any time," he said. "If ranchers have evidence that grazing prevents fires, they should produce it."

It is Marvel's group, however, that has worked for decades to remove cattle from the area. The wealthy Sun Valley architect's organization has filed countless lawsuits against the BLM in an attempt to force the agency to fulfill Marvel's political agenda against the ranchers.

Meanwhile, a northern Idaho man says firefighters set a backfire that destroyed his $1.2 million guest ranch, including an indoor riding arena. And another northern Idaho resident reported that his home was looted after he fled a fire near Waha.

Utah ranges have been equally devastated. The Milford Flat Fire burned over 360,000 acres in July and many think the Bureau of Land Management made things worse by not allowing enough cattle to graze rangeland and permitting piñon-juniper forests killed by bark beetles to remain standing.

Utah State Senator Dennis Stowell, (R-Parowan), said, "I just feel like [we have] failed environmental policy in the whole country. We've got a lot of fuel build-up, a lot piñon-juniper. We're not managing the land enough." The people who bear the burden of government land mismanagement know how to solve the problems; question is will the politicians ever figure it out?


Some blame BLM policies for huge blaze

By BOBBY MAGILL The Daily Sentinel

Friday, July 13, 2007

RICHFIELD, Utah — The spread of the Milford Flat Fire across a wide swath of central Utah desert is sparking concern among some Utah lawmakers that the Bureau of Land Management hasn’t managed the cheatgrass and pinyon-covered rangeland within the burn area well enough to prevent wildfires.

The Milford Flat Fire, ignited July 6 by lightning, is Utah’s largest-ever wildfire, incinerating more than 363,000 acres of rangeland upon which many area ranchers depended for their livelihoods.

Incident Cmdr. Rowdy Muir said Thursday afternoon the fire is 65 percent contained following a day of light winds and successful firefighting efforts.

Utah Cattlemen’s Association President Jim Ekker said the fire devastated ranchers already financially stressed because cattle feed is scarce and expensive.

But Utah state Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, said despite drought conditions, ranchers may have been dealt an unnecessary blow.

“I just feel like (we have) failed environmental policy in the whole country,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of fuel build-up, a lot of pinyon-juniper. We’re not managing the land enough.”

Stowell, who toured the burn area Wednesday, criticized the BLM for not allowing enough cattle to graze rangeland in the region and permitting pinyon-juniper forests killed by bark beetles to remain standing.

As a testament to the fire resistance of intensely managed land, some of the rangeland in the Milford Flat Fire’s path that was pastured didn’t burn, Stowell said.

“Years ago, we didn’t have a lot of forest fires or range fires because we had proper grazing,” Millard County Commissioner John C. Cooper said.

Now, he said, the BLM is often too eager to limit grazing, especially during a drought.

“The abundance of fuel has become crazy,” he said. “When we have these fires, it’s replaced by cheatgrass. We need to reseed this burned area.”

Reseeded, that is, with native grasses, he said, to prevent another “disaster” on par with Milford Flat from happening again.

The BLM has become better at managing its land and working with grazing permittees, BLM Fillmore Field Manager Sherry Hirst said.

The rangeland fires of 1996 burned about as much land in the area as the Milford Flat Fire has, but it was in multiple blazes spread throughout the Fillmore BLM office’s jurisdiction, she said. All of those areas were reseeded for grazing, she said, but many of them burned again.

The Milford Flat burn area needs to be reseeded with fire-resistant perennial grasses that will return after an area has burned, Utah State Grazing Program Director Bill Hopkin said.

He called the spread of fire- fueling cheatgrass throughout the West “frightening.”

When the BLM tried experimenting with various mixes of perennial plants, however, they all went up in flames in previous wildfires, Hirst said.

Nonetheless, the only way to beat wildfires, she said, is to establish some type of vegetation — not necessarily native species — other than cheatgrass.

The BLM, Hirst said, plans to work with various state and federal agencies to do just that. But once those grass seeds have been spread across the burn area, it could take more than three years to appear, she said.

“We are going to have to ask for a lot of patience and time for this vast amount of damaged land to be healed,” she said. “This isn’t a quick fix.”

Meanwhile, she said, the BLM will do what it can to work with ranchers and local communities to recover from Milford Flat.

Bobby Magill can be reached via e-mail at bmagill@gjds.com.




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