BAER Assessment underway for Woodhead Fire on the Payette National Forest
McCall, Idaho, October 13, 2020 – The Woodhead Fire has burned almost 100,000 acres to date, though the fire is not yet contained. The fire is located east of Council, Idaho including lands in the Payette National Forest. Starting September 28, a team of Forest Service specialists are conducting field assessments to determine the need for burned area emergency response (BAER) treatments. Specialists include hydrology, soils, engineering, botany, range, recreation, fisheries, archeology, and wildlife. BAER is a specific effort to reduce further damage due to the land being temporarily exposed in a fragile condition. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; water runoff may increase and cause flooding; sediment may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs, putting habitat and community water supplies at risk. The BAER program is designed to address these situations through the key goals of protecting life, property, water quality, and deteriorated ecosystems.
Led by West Zone Hydrologist Melanie Vining, the Woodhead Fire BAER Team uses satellite imagery of the burned area to classify the landscape into low, moderate, and high soil burn severity. Ground-truthing the satellite imagery is ongoing, but generally the fire on the forest burned in a mosaic pattern with most of the burned area preliminarily classified as unburned, low severity, or moderate severity. The burned area is initially classified using the satellite imagery and adjustments in classification are being made based on ground surveys and updated imagery while the fire is not yet contained. Eventually these efforts will result in a final soil burn severity map which can be shared with adjacent landowners, other agencies, and the interested public.
The entire burned area is mapped, though the field work and treatments identified by the Forest Service BAER Team are limited to only the acres of burned area on the Payette National Forest. A BAER Plan summarizing the assessment results and describing the proposed treatments will be prepared and submitted for approval. Approved treatments will be implemented over the next 12 months using federal dollars on federal lands.
Areas of concern for watershed impacts are in places that experienced higher burn severity, namely in Crooked River, No Business Basin, and Brownlee Creek. To date, major federal infrastructure was not lost to the fire, though there is likely damage to trails, signage, fences, and similar minor infrastructure that might need replacement. The BAER assessment team will be looking at those impacts more closely over the coming days.
After the fire burn severity map is completed and the BAER treatment plan is approved additional information will be provided to the public. While the BAER program does not prescribe treatments on non-federal lands, the assessment and hydrologic risk analysis can be useful to adjacent and downstream landowners to inform their own range of possible treatments. The Woodhead BAER team continues to share information with County officials and other agencies who in turn coordinate with affected landowners.
Information about fire operations, maps, and closure information for the Woodhead fire is available at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7163/