ITD has long history of fire-proofing highway rights of way

Editor’s Note: The following is a follow up to a previous Transporter article, providing additional details on ITD's fire-mitigation efforts along Interstate 84)

ITD’s efforts in fire control along busy Interstate 84 are part of an ongoing commitment and cooperation between agencies that has been in effect for eight years, according to Roadside Program Administrator, Cathy Ford. The recent article “did not include the overall comprehensive picture of this joint project,” Ford noted.
ITD and BLM have worked together for many years to implement practices to reduce wildfire ignitions and spread from the roadways, as well as improve drivers’ safety by controlling weeds and reducing bare ground/blowing soil.
 Here are some additional highlights and facts regarding the Interstate 84 cooperative project:

  • Over the past eight years, this project has implemented many treatments with success in reducing cheat grass (annual grass) populations and restoring perennial grass populations.
  • Since 2005, the agencies have teamed to treat more than 22,000 acres next to the roadway using a combination of herbicides, seeding and mowing, and devoting more than $1.66 million to the effort.
  • The fire activity in 2012 was a perfect “fire storm” year, brought on by consecutive drought years, warmer than normal spring, excessive wind patterns and late summer fire ignitions (that occurred after all perennial vegetation was dry or dormant). The 2012 winter in the Boise area was much warmer and a little wetter than normal. Southern Idaho stopped receiving moisture in May 2012, and June through the rest of the summer saw above normal temperatures, according to the Idaho Department of Lands year-end fire report.This type of year is uncommon. The “2012 data does not reflect the typical fire year, and there were major fires occurring throughout Idaho in both rangelands and forest lands,” Ford said.

 “It is not realistic to compare extreme fire situations to typical or common fire seasons. In order to know how well the fire reduction treatments are working, you need to evaluate the common (or more typical) years and compare that data separately from extreme circumstances.”
For instance, she said BLM statistics show fewer fires between 2007 and 2010, as well as fewer acres burned since ITD implemented aggressive treatments to reduce wildfire ignitions and spread on I-84.
Under normal or more common fire years, the establishment of fire-resistant perennial vegetation and reduced cheat grass, as well as mowing and other weed control treatments is working like ITD envisioned it would, she said. The combined effort of reducing cheat grass and establishing more perennial bunch grass communities is working to reduce fires on the interstate system, as well as reduce fire spread and intensity.
Ford said past roadside treatments included reducing annual grasses and problem weeds with herbicides, seeding within the right-of-ways using native and non-native perennial bunch grass, and mowing an 8- to 12-foot strip within the highway right of way.
“These treatments together have drastically improved and restored perennial grasses in many areas of the interstate,” Ford said.
Ford indicated that there were several factors influencing the roadside management program, as well as several issues or challenges ITD faces in fire control along I-84, including response time to actively suppress (or extinguish) interstate fires, reducing ignition starts from the roadway, reducing fire spread and acres consumed, and maintaining desirable fire resistant vegetation in the right of way. To reduce fire spread and large acres burned, as well as maintain desirable vegetation, ITD must break the cycle of annual grass (cheat grass) and restore perennial bunch grasses, she added. 
Ford said, “ITD is committed to improve management techniques, focus on specific goals and objectives and implement new measures to promote perennial vegetation establishment and reduce loss of habitat to wildfires.”

Published 4-12-13