Hoping for fast fire recovery

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board August 22, 2012 08:48 am

While huge swathes of the sagebrush steppe in Oregon’s southeastern corner were being blackened this summer by lightning-sparked fires, Baker County was tranquil.

Until Sunday.

A bolt ignited a blaze about 16 miles southeast of Baker City. The Sardine fire spread across about 6,100 acres, according to BLM’s most recent estimate (acreages have varied considerably).

In one sense, the landowners whose property was burned fared better than some of their counterparts did in Harney and Malheur counties.

The Sardine fire, unlike the blazes in those counties, didn’t kill any cattle or horses.

This fortunate result isn’t due purely to luck, either. Mike Widman, who with his wife, Coral, owns some of the rangeland that burned, talked about how local residents and fire crews from multiple agencies strived to protect livestock.

But in another respect, Baker County ranchers are confronted with the same challenges facing others in the beef business.

At least half a dozen local ranchers will have to find another source of feed for cattle that were supposed to graze this fall in the area scorched on Sunday.

That means an extra expense.

And hassle.

Besides private land, the fire burned sections of public land that might be off-limits to livestock for two years to allow the scars to heal.

The fire will affect wildlife, too, possibly including sage grouse, a species for which federal protection has been proposed.

We’re confident that the BLM, which manages the public land in the area, will act quickly to minimize the fire’s damage. The agency might, for example, need to spread seeds of native grasses and other plants to prevent cheatgrass and other invasive species from dominating the post-fire landscape.

Widman said he will consider doing the same thing on his property.

Ideally, the late summer and fall will bring periods of gentle rain that encourages grass to sprout, rather than downpours that turn the denuded slopes into mudslides.

Ultimately the land will recover, and continue to provide multiple, and beneficial, uses.