Photo by M. Boudin

Written By: Captain Jerry McAdams

On August 25, 2008 at 1900 hours, the Boise Fire Department responded to a grass fire in southeast Boise. The incident progressed to a general alarm with all Boise Fire units and several units from other agencies involved in fire suppression activities. The end result was one civilian fatality, 10 homes destroyed and 11 others heavily damaged.

Since that time, the City of Boise, along with our partners, have made significant efforts to mitigate the risks that wildfire poses to the residents, infrastructure and plants and wildlife in this area.

To date we have:

  • Created an interdepartmental wildfire mitigation team (Fire, Parks & Planning and Development Services);
  • Adopted building and fire prevention codes specific to the wildland-urban interface (WUI);
  • Built numerous partnerships;
  • Obtained funding for various fuel treatments;
  • Increased the number of Firewise Communities in Boise from two to six;
  • Presented at numerous homeowners’ association and neighborhood association meetings;
  • Executed a wildfire mitigation MOU with Boise District BLM, Idaho Department of Fish & Game, Ada County and the City of Eagle; and
  • Actively participated in the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, a group of communities tied together to share best practices and lessons learned.

The Oregon Trail area can be described as open space with large areas of contiguous sagebrush and other shrubby/woody vegetation, surrounded by approximately 2,000 homes. Light, flashy fuels, such as cheatgrass and medusahead rye are prevalent. These are invasive, non-native and highly flammable plant species. The combination of flashy fuels and a severe weather event, resulted in the fatal Oregon Trail Fire.

Wildlife such as California quail and cottontail rabbits rely on sagebrush for cover, which we had to take into consideration before undertaking any mitigation efforts. We decided to reduce the contiguous sagebrush to numerous clumpy areas in order to maintain cover for wildlife, while at the same time reducing the fuel load in this area. We also decided to try to revegetate this area with native and relatively fire resistant plants.

To conduct necessary mitigation activities in this area, we had to rely upon our partner groups and utilize a multi-year, phased approach. During the summer of 2012, the Southwest Idaho Resource Conservation and Development council (RC&D) funded sagebrush thinning on approximately 10 acres. Volunteers from Ada County WILD also assisted with sagebrush thinning and some weed thinning. In 2013 an additional 11 acres of sagebrush thinning was completed, again with the assistance of the Southwest Idaho RC&D. City of Boise Forestry thinned several acres of sagebrush in this area in 2013 as well. The final sagebrush thinning, comprising approximately 30-35 acres, was accomplished in 2014 with assistance from the Southwest Idaho RC&D and the Idaho Transportation Department. In 2015 goat grazing and herbicide (e.g., Plateau) application will take place on the entire 110-acre project area, and follow-up re-seeding with native grasses and forbs in 2016. We expect to retreat with herbicide in 2018 or 2019. These treatments will provide a substantial reduction in hazardous fuels in these areas, and will help the land become less prone to fast-moving wildfires.

Volunteers chipping sagebrush in the Oregon Trail area (2012). Photo by: J. McAdams

Volunteers chipping sagebrush in the Oregon Trail area (2012). Photo by: J. McAdams

Before and after goat grazing (2014). Goats can be used to reduce fuel loads in many areas. Photo by: M. Beaudoin

Before and after goat grazing (2014). Goats can be used to reduce fuel loads in many areas.
Photo by: M. Beaudoin

"Before and after" fuels treatment. Photo By: J. McAdams

“Before and after” treatment.
Photo By: J. McAdams

We are also working with the Southwest Idaho RC&D to write a grant to the Idaho Power Foundation to assist homeowners’ associations with fuel reduction/revegetation efforts in areas where transmission lines run through neighborhoods in the WUI.

Partners for this project include:

  •  Boise District BLM
  •  Southwest Idaho RC&D
  •  Idaho Power
  • NRCS – Agricultural Research Service
  • Idaho Transportation Department
  • Ada County Juvenile Court Services – W.I.L.D. Program
  • Columbia Village Owners’ Association
  • Cove East Homeowners’ Association
  • Homestead Rim Homeowners’ Association
  • Surprise Valley Homeowners’ Association
  • Oregon Trail Heights Homeowners’ Association
  • Forest Management
  • Intermountain Aquatics
  • We Rent Goats
  • City of Boise, Parks, Fire and Planning

To learn more about this work, check out this flyer about  Oregon Trail Fuel Treatments.

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