Outdoors Blog

‘We don’t want to shut people out of the woods’ in Pioneer Fire’s path, officials say

The people of Boise County vacillate between feeling overwhelmed by the Treasure Valley tourists who play in their remote part of Idaho and wishing more of them would arrive to patronize the businesses.

Right now, the conflict is gone.

The tourists are needed in the aftermath of the Pioneer Fire — and U.S. Forest Service and Boise County officials said Friday they’re committed to providing access to as much of the county’s popular recreation destinations as possible.

The fire that started in July, burned a national-high 188,000 acres and wasn’t 100 percent contained until Thursday already has disrupted the busy summer recreation season and put a damper on fall hunting. The next big activity in the Lowman area is snowmobiling, and the plan is to have the Clear Creek trail (Forest Service road 582) open for winter. That trail branches toward Cascade and Stanley.

Forest Service officials led a media tour up the Clear Creek road Friday, highlighting the damage done by the fire and the rehab efforts that have begun and will continue for years to come.

“We don’t want to shut people out of the woods if we don’t have to,” said John Kidd, the Lowman District ranger for the Boise National Forest.

The key is to be cautious within the fire’s footprint.

“We’re concerned about cross-country snowmobile travel through the burned area, hiking through the burned areas, skiing through the burned areas,” Kidd said. “And definitely any kind of traffic along the river, especially in those steep corridors. Even fishermen need to be really careful. ... My biggest concern would be the snowmobile traffic in the burned area off road.”

The most notable closure in the Lowman area is the canyon stretch of the South Fork of the Payette River (Deadwood to Danskin). The Pine Flats Campground (the only fire-related campground closure in the Lowman district) and hot springs also are closed. All three are expected to remain closed through the winter. The river also could be closed for a big chunk of the spring. Some trails, including Julie Creek and Miller Mountain, are closed too. Forest Service road 594, which is the snowmobile trail from Lowman to Banner Summit, is closed but the Forest Service hasn’t ruled it out for winter yet.

Thirty-three trail bridges have been identified as potentially compromised. Fifteen have been confirmed burned.

Trail work comes out of the local budget, so it’s uncertain how quickly repairs will be made. The Forest Service will be looking for volunteers in the spring.

John Roberts, the emergency management coordinator for Boise County, said he expects visitors to return to Boise County fairly quickly as repairs are made.

“It may take several years for it to come back,” he said, “but I think people will come back before that just because it’s handy and their favorite places are here.”

Other notes from the tour:

▪  The Burned-Area Emergency Response team from the Forest Service has one year from the date of containment to use federal funding on emergency projects. The priorities: human life and safety, property (such as the road system) and important cultural and natural resources. This includes clearing hazard trees from parking lots, campgrounds and trailheads where people often are stationary but not clearing trails. On trails, drainage is fixed under BAER to protect the trail asset but other repairs generally aren’t made.

▪  Erosion is a major concern because the burned soil often repels water, the trees aren’t absorbing it and plants aren’t on the ground to slow the water’s movement toward creeks. Among the ways the Forest Service combats erosion is to drop straw and wood mulch by helicopter and seed the area. Forty percent of the burned area was labeled moderate or high for burn severity, which means that area has a high potential for flooding and debris flows.

▪  The Forest Service has identified 3,000 acres associated with habitat for the endangered bull trout. For more on the effort to help the fish, watch the video above. The critical habitat is along Clear Creek and Crooked River. A couple other areas are considered suitable occupied habitat.

▪  The events that cause the most concern for erosion are rain on snow, rapid snowmelt and high-intensity summer storms.

▪  The Pioneer Fire was the largest Forest Service fire of 2016. It began July 18, covered 188,404 acres and has cost $96 million.

▪  Salvage logging will be performed, including to remove hazard trees within 200 feet of roadways for safety reasons. The Forest Service is trying to schedule logging in a way that it doesn’t conflict with snowmobiling.

For the Idaho City-area perspective, check out our previous post.