Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires

The Bureau of Land Management is currently conducting a series of public hearings across the West to get input on an audacious proposal to limit the unchecked spread of rangeland wildfires.

The BLM says wildfires have increased dramatically in size and frequency in the past decade in six Western states — Nevada, Utah, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. During that time, 21 fires have exceed 100,000 acres. A total of 13.5 million acres have burned. Efforts to suppress wildfires by the BLM alone have cost $373 million over the past decade

“These wildfires result in increased destruction of private property, degradation and loss of rangelands, loss of recreational opportunities, and habitat loss for a variety of species, including the conversion of native habitats to invasive annual grasses,” the BLM reports. “The conversion of rangeland habitats to invasive annual grasslands further impedes rangeland health and productivity by slowing or preventing recovery of sagebrush communities.”

To counter this, the federal land agency is proposing to create up to 11,000 miles of firebreaks as a way to keep the fires from spreading into mammoth infernos, like the Martin Fire in northern Nevada this past year, which consumed nearly half a million acres of rangeland.

The draft proposal calls for fuel breaks being created along roads and rights-of-way by mowing, grazing, mechanical and chemical clearing, as well as prescribed burns. Some of the breaks could be brown strips — areas where all vegetation has been removed. Others could be green strips — areas where vegetation that is more flammable has been replaced with less flammable vegetation.

In some areas invasive cheatgrass — a perennial that grows knee high in the spring but dries out in the summer — would be replaced with native plants less susceptible to fire. Also, grazing permits could be adjusted to allow for spring time clearing of cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass and wildfires create a vicious cycle. Cheatgrass recovers more quickly than native species after a fire. Thus the more fires, the more cheatgrass. The more cheatgrass, the more fires.

John Ruhs, once the head of the BLM in Nevada and now the head of BLM operations in Idaho, was quoted in an agency press release as saying, “Fuel breaks have proven to be very effective in slowing rangeland wildfires, making them easier and safer for wildland firefighters to control. We believe that creating a system of fuel breaks will help us enhance and improve our working landscapes.”

The BLM’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Casey Hammond, was quoted as saying, “Wildfires devastate forests, rangeland and communities across Idaho and throughout the West, and without strategic planning they’re likely to continue in the years ahead. With this initiative and others like it, we’re working proactively to curb wildfires’ destruction and make it safer and more effective for firefighters to protect people and property.”

Environmentalists have expressed concerns that firebreaks may fragment wildlife habitats, including that of the threatened greater sage grouse, but the fragmentation should be less threatening than a wall of flames threatening the animals’ very lives and food source.

Brian Rutledge, a vice president of the National Audubon Society, notes, “The safety of a sage-grouse is utterly dependent on its cryptic coloring and cover from overhead predators. If the birds didn’t get burned up in the fire, there’s nowhere to hide eggs in cheatgrass.” Additionally, unlike soft sage leaves, cheatgrass provides little nutrition for the species.

The BLM is accepting comments on the proposal through Aug. 5.

Scoping meetings are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. on July 16 at the Red Lion Inn in Elko and July 17 at the Bristlecone Convention Center in Ely.

Firebreaks would be a valuable tool in the effort to cut down the size of rangeland wildfires.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

BLM proposes firebreaks along 11,000 miles of roads and rights-of-way.

11 comments on “Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires

  1. Rincon says:

    Sounds like a pretty good idea, but I think Conservatives are going to be against it. They won’t want the government spending and will reject any ideas from the BLM just on principle. OK, maybe I’m being a little cynical. As for the environmentalists and their sage grouses, isn’t it true that many of them die (the grouses, not the environmentalists) from the effects of uncontrolled wild fires?

  2. Anonymous says:

    If an idea comes out of this administration, it can ONLY be evil; good fruit does not come from bad trees.

    “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday it would allow for the expanded use of a pesticide it considers toxic to bees, a move that comes just days after the Trump administration said it was suspending data collection on bee populations.

    The pesticide known as sulfoxaflor will be permitted for use on certain crops for the first time, and in other areas that were prohibited under the Obama administration.

    The agency considers sulfoxaflor “very highly toxic” to bees.

    In a call with reporters to announce the decision, a top EPA official emphasized the agency’s research on the pesticide’s effects on bees and said the rule was designed with pollinators in mind.

    “To reduce exposure to bees, the product label will have crop-specific restrictions and important pollinator protection language,” including limits on how close to bloom sulfoxaflor can be sprayed, the official said.

    But it may be difficult to monitor whether the regulations spare bees as intended. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week it was suspending one of the few remaining government data sets that monitor bee populations and loss.”


    In sum, these EVIL bastards KNOW that these poisons are killing bees, and decided to increase the places and circumstances where it can be used AND THEN they got rid of all monitoring efforts so that no one will ever be able to say that they killed the bees.

    These guys are simply evil.

  3. Steve says:

    One (who claims to be more centrist, but exhibits left lean) says the right won’t support it, the other (blatant leftist, hates all who are in any way right of that position) says the left won’t support anything that comes out of this administration.


  4. […] Source: Editorial: BLM proposes firebreaks to reduce size of wildfires […]

  5. Rincon says:

    The Trump Administration’s handling of chlorpyrofos is similar to that of sulfoxaflor. Scientists tested blood levels in pregnant mothers and found structural brain changes in their babies identical to those found in rat pups whose mothers were subjected to the insecticide. Children from mothers with low or no blood levels exhibited none of the changes. The Obama Administration banned it and the Trump EPA reinstated it. https://time.com/5363553/epa-chlorpyrifos-ban-pesticide/

  6. Anonymous says:

    There can only be evil that comes out of this administration. Trumps mother was a jackal don’t you know?

  7. Rincon says:

    Calling his mother a name sounds like something from the Conservative play book. Better to keep the moral high ground.

    Besides, Trump has done some good things, although it is hard to think of one offhand. Ah, I’ve got it. NATO nations have failed to pay their fair share of defense costs for decades, but only Trump called them out on it.

  8. reziac says:

    Just a correction: cheatgrass is not a perennial. It’s a winter annual, like winter wheat; that is, it preferentially germinates in the fall, lies dormant over the winter, then regrows, seeds, and dies in the spring. If conditions are dry enough, it skips the fall sprouting and just comes up in the spring.

    However under desert conditions its lifecycle can accelerate dramatically, so six weeks after every rain you get a new crop of cheatgrass.

    And if it gets enough water, it may head out multiple times in a single season. (I’ve mowed mine four times this year, trying to prevent it from seeding out, and it’s still sending up fresh heads.)

    But it’s still not a perennial.

    Also, where did this crop of orange-man-bad posters come from? They’re about as useful as cheatgrass.

  9. Annual, perennial … seems like a distinction without a difference to the non-botanist, but apparently there is a difference. Thanks for pointing this out, though perhaps not for the crack at the end.

    But thanks for the feedback.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What? He’ll tell California to go take their forests before they get a dime, but for Russia?

    Anything comrades.

    “President Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone Wednesday to offer assistance in fighting forest fires raging in the eastern parts of the country, according to the Kremlin.”

    Owning the libs though, oh, and no collusion.

  11. Anonymous says:

    So now California can take a hike, or in the words of the nominal president “go rake their forests before they get a dime” but if the right wing dictator of a country like Brazil or Russia “needs anything” all he’s got to do is ask?

    Owning libs I guess. But can America go first just once?

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