RENO (AP) — Budget constraints are forcing federal land managers to scale back wildfire rehabilitation plans across thousands of acres of public land in Nevada, including some habitat deemed important to sage grouse.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently identified more than $3.2 million worth of potential restoration work to be done in southern Douglas County where the Bison fire burned nearly 38 square miles last year.
But agency officials say they’ll only be able to spend about $1 million on the effort in the coming year due to increased demand and dwindling resources after last year’s big fire season.
“We will only be re-seeding about a third of the fire,” said Ryan Elliott, a BLM range technician who led the team preparing the recovery plan.
“The other two-thirds is going to have to recover as naturally as it can,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The biggest single fire on record in western Nevada, the Bison fire sparked by lightning July 4, 2012, burned about 24,000 acres in Douglas County. The damaged rangeland includes thousands of acres identified as priority habitat for the greater sage grouse and other sensitive species.
“The unique thing about this fire is it never laid down. This fire burned actively all through the night for six days straight,” Elliott said.
The fire burned up the western flank of the Pine Nut range, over the top and down the eastern flank, something he said veteran firefighters in the region hadn’t seen before.
“It was what is defined as an exceptional event,” he said.
Fortunately, experts said the fire spared some of the most vital sage grouse habitat in the Pine Nuts, including an area used by mating males near the fire’s northern boundary. Still, 11,369 acres of identified priority habitat for sage grouse was charred by the fire, according to the recovery plan.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently is considering a petition to add the greater sage grouse to the list of U.S. threatened species and could render a decision as early as this fall.
A chicken-sized bird known for its elaborate mating display, it is found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota Nevada, Utah, Washington, Oregon, eastern California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado.
Restoration funds were drained by the 2012 fire season, which had blazes like the epic Holloway fire, which burned some 720 square miles in both Nevada and Oregon.
The scale of fires last year limited what will be available for restoration of 2013 fire areas, Elliott said.
“We had such a severe year last year. That left us a little behind the eight ball nationally,” Elliott said.
Ted Koch, Nevada supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, acknowledged concerns about the limited scale of seeding proposed in the Bison fire restoration plan.
He also noted previous restoration projects in the area have been less successful than desired, in part due to a shortage of native seeds needed for effective rehabilitation of sagebrush ecosystems.
“This is a long-term problem that goes far beyond this particular fire,” Koch said.
“We had such a severe year last year. That left us a little behind the eight ball nationally.”
— Ryan Elliott
BLM range technician