Latest from The Spokesman-Review
SHOOTING — There's a reason it's illegal.
Exploding target ignited August wildfire in Montana
A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks official said the August wildfire in the Sapphire Mountains was ignited by a target shooter illegally using an explosive target at a state wildlife management area, and the agency is seeking information on the individual responsible who started the fire that cost $94,000 to extinguish.
PUBLIC LANDS – National conservation groups are backing a bill in Congress that would help prevent wildfire fighting operations from dipping into funding for forest health and wildfire prevention programs.
“How we account for fire suppression costs in the federal budget absolutely must change if we want better managed forests and fewer catastrophic fires,” said Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
In a recent conference call to bring public attention to the issue, Fosburgh and leaders from the American Forest Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service, spoke about the need to get Congress to vote on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would steer management to preventing fires, improving habitat and preventing catastrophic fires that damage local economies, private and public property, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
- “There are a lot of impacts on public lands when it comes to recreational opportunities: campground shutdown, trails shutdown and all sorts of impacts,” said Rita Hite, executive vice president, American Forest Foundation.
- “We don’t borrow regionally, we borrow nationally. This impacts all Forest Service programs across the board,” said Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, USDA.
“Anywhere outside the Beltway, this would seem like an academic fight about accounting principles,” said Fosburgh, who's based in Washington, D.C. “However, it has very real impacts on all 190-plus million acres of the National Forest System.
“The good news is that there is a fix: the bipartisan Wildlife Disaster Funding Act. The bad news is that Congress needs to act to pass the bill.”
WILDLIFE — At least one farmer already is experiencing deer damaging an alfalfa field in otherwise charred landscape in the Methow Valley region, according to the latest report from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department's wildlife program.
The Carlton Complex fires burned and leaped across more than 256,000 acres in July and August, the largest fire covering recorded in Washington. And to add to the issues, mudslides and flooding has resulted from recent thunderstorms over the denuded landscape.
Department biologist say significant portions of mule deer winter range have been burned. Some has been burned badly, but the burning varied in intensity and some areas are starting to sprout green and recover with the rains. Seed is being ordered for revegetating some areas.
Grazing permits have been effected and department staff is working with some farmers and orchard operators who are scrambling to replace burned fences to keep deer out of their crops.
Hunters will have to appreciate this portion of the report on this week's activities:
Specialist Heilhecker visited with a landowner in Tonasket who is experiencing deer damage to her alfalfa field. This individual called last year at this time with the same concerns of not being able to get a third cutting. Specialist Heilhecker issued a kill permit and a damage permit valid until the start of general season and reminded her that she needs to open her land to some public hunting. Whether public hunting is allowed on the property will more closely monitored.
PUBLIC LANDS — The 67,000-acre Big Cougar Fire near the confluence of the Salmon and Snake rivers has raised hell with one of Idaho's choice public-land hunting areas in Hells Canyon. But there's still a lot of terrain, which hunters now are able to re-explore.
Main roads, including the Zaza road, in the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area are being reopened to pre-fire status on Saturday, Aug. 23, the Idaho Fish and Game Department says. Some of the roads are normally closed to motor vehicles to protect wildlife.
Officials say firefighters are still doing work in the area and warn of hazards:
Trees and snags Obviously burned or compromised trees have a high potential of falling but also unburned trees may be more susceptible to falling if they’ve lost the shelter and support from neighboring trees. Be very cautious during windy conditions.
Rocks The dislodging and falling of rocks is another significant risk, especially in steep sloped areas such as the breaks and grasslands of Craig Mountain.
Unstable ground Soils will be more unstable after a wildfire when they’ve lost the stability from plants and trees. This may result in less stable hiking conditions or even may lead to landslides, especially during or after a heavy rain event.
Root wells After a wildfire has burned through a forested or shrubby area, sometimes the root system of shrubs and trees are also burned out leaving a void that may still be covered by ash and debris.
Info: IFG regional office in Lewiston, (208) 799-5010.
PUBLIC LANDS — Methow Valley and Tonasket Ranger Districts on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest have reopened many of the areas that were closed because of the Carlton Complex wildfires. Areas reopened on Sunday include:
- East Chewuch area
- Upper West Chewuch area, including Andrews Creek and 30-Mile trailheads
- North Summit and South Summit areas
- Buttermilk Creek area south to Pateros, including Black Pine Lake, Foggy Dew, Loup Loup and JR campgrounds. West Fork Buttermilk, East Fork Buttermilk, Libby Lake, Crater Creek, Foggy Dew and Eagle-Oval Lakes trailheads
- Sawtooth Backcountry
Areas that remain closed include:
- 8-mile and Falls Creek drainages, including: Honeymoon, Ruffed Grouse, Nice, Flat, Buck Lake, Falls Creek, Chewuch and Camp 4 campgrounds; and the Billy Goat and Lake Creek Trailheads
- Little Bridge Creek and Twisp River drainages, including: War Creek, Mystery, Poplar Flat, South Creek roads and campgrounds, and the Twisp River Horse Camp; War Creek, Williams Creek, Reynolds Creek, South Creek, Gilbert, Scatter, Slate Creek and Wolf Creek trailheads.
- Road Closures: Finley Road #4100300 and Pole Pick Mountain Roads #4100500 and 4100535 as they are impassable. Other short-term temporary road closures may occur in the burned area due to heavy equipment doing road repairs.
The North Cascades Scenic Highway Corridor and Harts Pass, as well as east and west portions of the Pasayten Wilderness, Tiffany Springs Campground, Long Swamp and Chewuch trailheads were not impacted by the fires and remain open.
Info: Methow Valley Ranger District at (509) 996-4000 or go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/okawen/.
Firefighting costs for the Idaho Department of Lands are up significantly this year, the state Land Board was told this morning, coming to $24.4 million to date. An estimated $2.1 million of those costs will be reimbursed to the state Lands Department from other agencies, for a net cost of about $22.34 million. That’s far above the 20-year average of about $7.5 million. The reason: Though this hasn’t been the worst fire season statewide, more than a quarter of the fires have been on land for which the state has fire-protection responsibility. “As a percentage of the 200,000 acres being suppressed this year, we’re more than 25 percent of those,” said Tom Schultz, state lands director.
Two years ago, wildfires in the state were far more extensive, but burned largely on federally protected land.
“It has been a very active fire season for the Department of Lands on our protection districts,” state forester David Groeschl told the board. “We’ve had a lot of fire activity.” Four fires required Type 2 management teams in the past two weeks, he said; all are now contained. “Mop-up is occurring on those,” Groeschl said. The largest, the Big Cougar Fire, has burned 65,000 acres. The state’s costs include $1.8 million for fixed aircraft costs for the season.
“As of right now, August is predicted to be warmer than normal with normal precipitation, which isn’t much for August,” Groeschl said. “Given those predictions, we expect still a very active fire season right now. We’ve got some recent precipitation which is good, helps slow things down right now, but we’ll see what happens throughout the rest of August and early September.”
Schultz said this year’s state firefighting price tag could end up four times the 20-year average, saying it’s been a “very difficult, very expensive fire season so far for us.”
PUBLIC LANDS — Extreme fire danger has prompted the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to join Washington state agencies in prohibiting campfires in Eastern Washington, including in developed recreation areas.
The federal agency's fire managers enacted initial fire restrictions in mid-July. Today they updated the restrictions to prohibit the building, maintaining, attending or using a fire of any type, including charcoal briquette fires on lands administered by the BLM’s Spokane District.
An exemption is made for liquefied and bottled gas stoves and heaters provided they are used within an area at least 10 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.
The updated fire restriction will be effective beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, August 14, 2014.
The fire restrictions apply to all BLM managed lands in the following Eastern Washington counties: Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and Yakima counties. Restrictions are in place until further notice.
In addition to prohibiting campfires, restrictions on the use of off-road vehicles, smoking, shooting of exploding targets and the use of fireworks is still in effect. A complete, signed fire restriction order can be found at the following websites:
WILDLIFE — Free programs on snakes and other reptiles and amphibians, geology, wildfire history and prescribed burn management will be featured this weekend, Aug. 23-24, as the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area 75th anniversary celebration continues in northcentral Okanogan County.
It’s the fourth summer weekend in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) “Explore the Sinlahekin – Past and Present” series to spotlight the state's first wildlife area. All sessions begin at Sinlahekin headquarters, south of Loomis.
Sessions are scheduled on both Saturday, Aug. 23, and Sunday, Aug. 24, about the Sinlahekin’s wildfire history and prescribed burn management.
On Saturday afternoon, Okanogan district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin will lead a session on snakes and other reptiles and amphibians of the Sinlahekin, including close-up views and handling.
On Sunday morning, local geologists Don Hruska and Gary Mundinger will provide a primer on Sinlahekin geology for independent exploring of the Sinlahekin’s geologic features.
Click here for more details for the Aug. 23-24 weekend sessions, a complete schedule of upcoming weekends (Sept. 6-7, and Sept. 27), and directions.
OLYMPIA — The Department of Natural Resources has banned outdoor burning on all of the agency's lands, no exceptions, it said this morning.
The ban comes after a weekend which saw new wildfires in Ferry and Kittitas counties and the total amount of land with active fires go to more than 313,000 acres. The Carlton Complex is listed as more than 90 percent contained, but none of the state's six other active fires are more than 40 percent contained.
The ban includes campfires on DNR campgrounds, fireworks, sky lanterns, tracer ammunition. It's also advising that logging operations, land clearing, road and utility right-of-way maintenance by drastically curtailed because of the high fire danger.
Large areas of the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest and routes into the North Cascades remain open to recreation despite the wildfires that have burned more than 250,000 acres in northcentral Washington since mid-July.
- Salmon fishing is luring anglers to the Columbia River in the scorched Pateros-Brewster area.
- The North Cascades Highway is ushering tourists and hikers into prized destinations in North Cascades National Park.
- Most trails in the Alpine Lakes, Pasayten and Glacier Peaks wilderness areas are unaffected by fires or even smoke.
“Fires have burned across thousands of acres of this forest, and firefighters are still working to control some difficult fires in Okanogan, Chelan, and Kittitas Counties,” said Mike Balboni, Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Supervisor. “But this is a very large National Forest, and several of our districts have been spared large fires so far this season,” he said.
Recreation still is in full swing on the Tonasket, Chelan, Cle Elum, and Naches Ranger Districts, he noted. Even the Methow Valley and Wenatchee River Ranger Districts, which have been dealing with some very large wildfires, still offer recreation opportunity. The exception is the Entiat Ranger district, which is mostly blanketed with fire area closures and has all its campgrounds shut down.
Although much of the Methow Valley Ranger District is closed, the Highway 20 corridor west of Winthrop and the Forest Service campgrounds and trails in it are open to recreation.
Businesses in Winthrop and Twisp are in the middle of the summer tourism season.
Lake Chelan and most of the forest and trails around it still are open to recreation, as are Lake Wenatchee and the White River and Chiwawa River drainages.
In Chelan County, Leavenworth and Chelan have occasionally been impacted by smoke from fires, but merchants in both communities are open for business.
- The latest information on wildfires and public safety closures is available online at the forest web site.
“There is a forest-wide ban on campfires,” Balboni noted. “With such dry conditions and so many wildfires, we simply can’t take a chance on any human-caused fires.”
WILDLIFE — The Carlton Complex wildfires in the Methow Valley region — 250,500 acres and still burning; the largest recorded in Washington history — have destroyed about 300 human-related homes and structures and countless homes and habitat areas for wildlife.
- The video above by Chelan HD Productions illustrates the point.
State wildlife managers are already looking into reducing the region's mule deer herd to prevent starvation and heavy impacts on farmer crops as wildlife search for food this winter.
- More antlerless deer opportunity in the area will be given to youths, seniors and disabled hunters.
- Winter feeding is being planned to help keep some of the 10,000 migratory deer that will be coming out of the Cascades to the Methow from devastating orchards and irrigated crops this winter. Indeed, more than 100 miles of the fence built to keep deer out of these crop areas even in good times has been destroyed by the fires.
- Habitat replanting is being planned.
- Road closures are likely.
A web page has been created to help the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife post information regarding developments involving wildlife, landowners and hunting.
PUBLIC LANDS — National Forest officials in Washington are are restricting activities that could accidentally spark wildfires as the state continues to be tinder dry and in a pall of smoke from other fires.
Starting Tuesday, Aug. 12, campfires will only be allowed only in approved campgrounds on the 1.1 million acre Colville Forest and smoking will be prohibited outside of a vehicle. These restrictions apply to all areas, roads and trails.
Liquid gas stoves are exempt from this restriction.
- Similar restrictions are set to begin Friday, Aug. 8, on the Umatilla National Forest.
The forests will enact “Hoot Owl” wood cutting restrictions, which prohibit use of chainsaws in the woods after 1 p.m. when fire danger increases.
A long handled shovel and a pressurized chemical fire extinguisher not less than 8 oz. in capacity is required by all wood-cutting permit holders.
Motorists should also exercise caution when driving on Forest roads and trails by avoiding dry grass and vegetation; hot exhaust systems can easily ignite dry grasses, said Franklin Pemberton, forest spokesman.
Fireworks are never allowed on national forests.
FISHING — Although there were a few jokes about the prevalence of “smoked fish,” the sentiments were genuine last weekend as the ninth annual Brewster King Salmon Derby dedicated proceeds of a raffle to victims of the sprawling Carlton Complex wildfires.
The three-day derby raised $1,700 for fire victims in a drawing for a donated YETI cooler.
Just as important, the 275 participating anglers and their families spent money at local businesses, including those in Pateros, where many homes were lost to the fires sparked by lightning more than three weeks ago.
Wind that fanned the continuing fires forced anglers off the water in fog-like bank of smoke on Saturday, but conditions improved again on Sunday.
The Brewster area of the Columbia River is flush with fish this year, including a record run of sockeye salmon.
The largest fish of the derby was a 25-pound chinook caught by Wiley Flohr of Wenatchee to win the youth division.
The top adult division salmon weighed 21.85 pounds caught by Corey Maynard.
WILDLIFE — The story of Cinder, the badly burned 37-pound black bear cub rescued Monday from the Carlton Complex fires in northcentral Washington (top) has a very similar ring to another true story that bloomed into a national forest campaign.
The legacy of Smokey Bear is celebrating its 70th anniversary of fire prevention messages this year.
WILDFIRES — Fond memories of more than two weeks of adventuring in Bolivia were dashed this morning as Horizon Airlines gave me an aerial tour of the hardship the region has suffered from wildfires while I've been gone.
My return flight from Seattle to Spokane began with Glacier Peak and Mount Baker (top in photo above) rising into beautiful blue skies that deteriorated into a pall of smoke spreading eastward from just east of the Cascades crest.
The Carlton Complex fires are still burning in the Methow Valley region (top smoke cloud in photo above) and forest fires just northwest of Leavenworth (lower smoke plume in photo) are adding to the smoke issue. The Okanogan-Wenatchee national forests are reporting that weekend lightning storms ignited more than 25 fires in the area, mostly small, but significant in all.
Trail and area closures are in effect for public and firefighter safety. Contact local ranger district offices or go to the forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/okawen for closure information.
While away, I've used the Internet to scan stories of the South Hill Bluff fire, the Greenbluff fires, the Fishtrap Lake-area fire, the big wind storm that toppled trees and left thousands of homes without power, and the ongoing Carlton Complex fires that have burned hundreds of homes and toasted mule deer winter range.
Sun Mountain Lodge near Winthrop was evacuated until firefighters took control of fire and power was restored in that area and the popular destination resort was reopened. Drive up the North Cascades Highway a ways and you can hike to Cutthroat Lake under clear, bluebird skies.
Today, I got an aerial reality check.
Fires are burning elsewhere, too, including the uncontained 19,000-acre Big Cougar Fire burning in rough Snake River country 24 miles south of Lewiston and the1,250-acre High Range fire near White Bird, Idaho.
HIKING — Knothead has become a blackhead this month.
The popular trail destination above the Little Spokane River and overlooking the Spokane River was charred by a July 8 spot fire that occurred the day before the larger fires ignited and ran through the Lake Spokane area.
But the timber had been thinned and firefighters did a good job to build fire lines and keep fire from raising hell with the Little Spokane River Natural Area.
- The hike is detailed in Trip 84 in Day Hiking Eastern Washington.
Check out the two nifty new single track segments that have been completed in 2014 to help keep visitors of adjoining private land. The most recent single track completed the first week of June is especially cool, with nifty rock work.
Sen. Patty Murray tells the Senate some of the details of the wildfires in Central and Eastern Washington, makes pitch for emergency aid to move through.
I wonder if some of those in other parts of the country who stumble onto news about the wildfires will be forced to update their uninformed assumptions about the Evergreen State's weather.
FISHING — The heat and smoke of wildfires is forcing some anglers to temporarily chill their enthusiasm for catching a share of the record run of sockeye heading into the upper Columbia.
And anglers could be blocked from Saturday's opening of the Lake Wenatchee sockeye season by firefighting efforts that have closed the state park boat access.
CAMPING — The Lake Spokane Campground, formerly operated by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, has been closed by state officials as they fight a nearby wildfire in Stevens County.
Other Riverside State Park facilities remain open.
See the story.
Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet today filed legislation to launch a five-year, up to $30 million wildfire mitigation pilot project, to be carried out by FEMA in consultation with the Forest Service, as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate. The two senators introduced the bill in August; it’s considered deficit-neutral, as it taps FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund for competitive grants to state and local officials for wildfire preparedness and mitigation projects. Those state and local agencies would have to provide matching funds; the projects could occur on federal, state or private land.
“Instead of waiting until more towns are evacuated, homes threatened and our firefighters lives put at risk, the U.S. Senate has an opportunity to pass the PREPARE Act amendment to help states like Idaho reduce and prevent catastrophic fires,” Crapo said in a statement. Bennet said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By directing more resources toward fire mitigation on the front end, we can not only help prevent and reduce
HUNTING — Check ahead before heading out hiking or hunting in central and southern Idaho.
Closure of federal lands in Idaho snarls hunting plans
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have closed public access to thousands of acres in Idaho burned by this summer's wildfires, and now the state is scrambling to notify hunters that their hunts won't take place as planned.
—Twin Falls Times-News
PUBLIC LANDS – Wildfires scattered throughout the northwest are affecting access to niches of national forests and other lands the public normally has access to for hunting, fishing, camping, berry picking and other late-summer pursuits.
Glacier and Yellowstone Parks have had to close sections of road briefly because of fires.
Near Priest Lake, the road to Lookout Mountain was closed for a couple of days recently and reopened as State Lands crews fought a small fire.
Huge areas of central and southern Idaho are closed by major forest fires as sportsmen plan their early-season hunts.
Most fires and restrictions can be tracked online at www.InciWeb.com.
Otherwise, call local ranger district offices for updates.
PUBLIC LANDS — Forest Service firefighters are continue to attack a four-acre wildfire today just east of Coeur d’Alene near Wolf Lodge, says Jason Kirchner, Idaho Panhandle National Forests spokesman.
The fire is along Marie Creek, which includes a popular hiking trail two and a half miles north of I-90 and five miles east of the Wolf Lodge exit.
Smoke and firefighting aircraft may be visible from the interstate.
The Marie Creek Fire is lightning caused and was first noted as a one-acre fire late Sunday night, Kirchner said.
Firefighters, including helicopters, Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) and ground crews, spent Monday constructing fire line and dropping retardant to slow and contain the blaze. Firefighting actions today will include additional fire line construction, and water and retardant drops.
Firefighting efforts are complicated by the difficult terrain, he said.
“The closest private property is located more than a mile to the west, but at this time there are no threats to structures.”
Further updates for this wildfire will be posted at www.inciweb.org
Firefighters start a back burn along Pine-Featherville Road while battling the more than 140-square-mile Elk Complex fire near Pine on Monday.
BOISE – Fire crews in central Idaho capitalized on favorable winds Tuesday to continue burnout operations around a small mountain community, seeking to push a wildfire toward an area torched by a massive blaze last year.
Ludie Bond, a spokeswoman on the lightning-caused Elk Complex wildfire burning on more than 140 square miles near Pine, said burnout efforts that began Monday evening worked just as planned: consuming dry, flammable vegetation as the wildfire stayed higher on the ridgeline above town. Full story.
HUNTING — The wildfire — considred human-caused — that's already burned 80,000 acres near Ellensburg, is scorching the winter range of one of the state's most important elk herds.
The extent of the impacts is yet unknown, but the Colockum herd almost surely will be impacted this winter. Beyond that, there's room for hope that the fire could be a net gain. Assessments will come after the fire's out.
Read details in this story by Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic.
PUBLIC LANDS — The 30 acre lightning-caused Granite Mountain Fire, burning 19 miles west of Leavenworth, as prompted trail and area closures around Klonaqua Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, U.S. Forest Service officials said today in a media release.
These closures have been enacted for public and firefighter safety.
An area of about 7 square miles is closed to public entry around the fire zone.
Trail closures in this area include Klonaqua Lakes Trail No. 1563 and French Creek Trail No. 1595 from its intersection with Snowall Creek Trail No. 1560 to its intersection with Paddy-Go-Easy Trail.
Signs advising recreationists of the fire and area and trail closures will be posted at trailheads leading into the closed area.
The smell and haze of smoke may be noticeable in the Icicle drainage and also in the town of Leavenworth depending upon weather conditions and wind direction. Fire managers do not anticipate that smoke will affect any tourism activities in and around Leavenworth.
The fire was started by a lightning storm that passed through North Central Washington on Sunday, August 4.
HIKING — With the wildfire season kicking into high gear, be sure to call ahead before leaving on a backcountry trip — and have an alternate plan even if you get a green light.
Jim Czirr of Spokane sent in this report after returning from a trek in the Bob Marshall Wilderness:
I just got back from the Bob Marshalls where I was hiking the last several days. My brother in law and I were the last ones to slip down Red Shale Meadows trail before they closed it due to the forest fires up there.
The attached photos were taken Saturday PM around 3 or 4 PM Mountain time near the Red Shale fire. The fire was a few hundred yards from the trail.
We did the section of the CDT from Lake Levale to Red Shale. Went in Route Pass and out Headquarters, a nice 50 mile loop or so entering the wilderness outside of Choteau.
FISHING — The Clark Fork River has been closed from Big Eddy Fishing Access Site to Dry Creek Fishing Access Site along Interstate 90 because of operations related to fighting a wildfire northwest of Superior, Mont., the state Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department has announced.
This is one of the more popular stretches among fly fishers who float the river to catch trout.
This section of river is closed in the interest of public safety while aircraft dip water out of the river to fight the West Mullan Fire. This stretch will remain closed as long as fire activities continue.
Click here for updates.
There's more good news for BooBoo the bear, the cub who was rescued after his paws were burned in an Idaho wildfire. The Associated Press reports that at the McCall-area rehab facility where BooBoo was moved Friday, he has the company of another cub and the run of a 2-acre wooded enclosure. Linda DeEulis, director of the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary, initially was worried about the bear's claws and his ability to climb, but those concerns were quickly put to rest. “He's doing fine - the first thing he did was run up a tree,” she told the AP. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.