BOISE DISTRICT BLM — Cheat grass and other invasive grasses have changed the landscape across Idaho and the entire Great Basin. More than one hundred million acres of native bushes and grasses in six states have been over run by blankets of grass that provide the perfect fuel for fast moving wildfires.
"It's really flammable, catches fire real easily," said Lance Okeson, BLM fuels program leader. "And then it creates this continuous fuel bed. And fire now just flows across the land. Whether the wind's blowing or not, it just goes everywhere and in all directions, and it's really hard to control."
One of the ways land managers work to gain control is by creating breaks in the fuel, using equipment to till the soil, or mowers and even grazing animals to minimize the fuel.
In some places workers plant native plants and in some cases non-native plants like forage kocha which can actually break down a cheat grass mono-culture, with ground cover that is clumpy and spaced.
BLM managers strategically place the breaks adjacent to existing breaks, often roads. In a recent fire east of Boise there is evidence of how just such a break worked. The enhanced break allowed crews to stop the fire's advance in strip of land where clumpy vegetation had taken the place of a blanket of dry grass.
But its clumpy vegetation ends, and with a blanket of that dry grass on each side of the road, the road itself was not enough stop the fire from spreading.
The BLM Is proposing an additional eleven thousand miles of fuel breaks in six states across the Great Basin.
BLM officials say the breaks will range from fifty feet to five hundred feet wide. There is no estimated cost for the entire project, but they believe the breaks will decrease fires, improve habitat, and decrease the cost of fighting fires in the west.
"It makes sense that if we can get in front of a fire quicker. Since fuel breaks will slow the fire, reduce the intensity of the fire, allow us to engage in more suppression and sooner," said project manager Marlo Draper. "Then we're gonna reduce the overall size of the fire and therefore reduce the suppression cost."