Team releases information on Seeley fire burn area
The damage from the Seeley fire was examined and evaluated by the Burned Area Emergency Response team. They recently presented their findings to agencies and interested parties in a meeting in Emery County.
Darren Olsen from the Ferron office for the forest service said he realizes there is an interest from the public to open campgrounds and trails, but that will not happen until the forest is safe. There are many snags and weakened trees near campgrounds and on trails. Public safety is the main concern. The frequent flood events are also cause for concern as debris keeps covering SR-31 and closing the road.
Campgrounds and trails will slowly open as they become safe.
Charmaine Thompson from the forest service spoke about what BAER can and cannot do. The purpose of the BAER team is to identify specific values that might be at risk from the fire and implement treatments.
Funding is a primary concern. Any funds associated with BAER are for federal lands only. There are other programs available for help with the private lands involved.
Thompson said the most severe risk right now to property and human life is the flooding dangers. Other risks involved are water quality, loss of fish resources, irrigation and power plant. It is critical to initiate treatments as soon as possible. Work has been started to reduce sedimentation onto the trails. The amount of sediment can be reduced by installing water bars. Sediment across the roads will be reduced by preparing for future high flows.
The Seeley fire was in remote areas with very sleep slopes. These slopes are hard to deal with and immediate treatments do not work on steep slopes.
Nature will begin to heal these steep slopes and aspen regeneration will occur. Long term rehabilitation will be part of future discussions, for now immediate emergency responses are being made.
Thompson emphasized that the burn area is unpredictable.
Seth Wallace is the forest engineer and was the team leader and he said the evaluation of the Seeley fire was challenging because of the steep rugged terrain. Bad weather also made the process more difficult. The heat from the fire alters the soil's ability to store water. A map of the burn area, and satellite images compares the differences in vegetation before and after the fire. A burn severity map was developed. Twenty-three percent of the fire burned with a high severity and 46 percent burned with a moderate severity. Floods, ash flowing into the river, channel cutting, roads, campgrounds were all evaluated. One of the hardest hit roads was Nuck Woodward. Culverts have washed out or plugged and there has been a lot of damage. There are major challenges along SR-31. There are many tributaries into Huntington Creek and small amounts of rain can cause big damage.
As far as recreation, 13 trails have been damaged. Most of the campgrounds were not burned, but the floods are causing damage and there has been damage to the water systems. There will be hazard trees for years to come. Damage has been sustained to the Pole Canyon trail and Left Fork.
Noxious weeds will continue to be monitored. With grazing there has been damage on 50 percent of the allotments. The wildlife seems to be OK, but there have been some impacts to their range land with 38,000 acres of summer range for deer being within the burn area.
It's expected that debris will continue to wash down the river for the next three-five years.
Wallace said it was a challenging fire. Mulching has taken place on 584 acres to help with erosion and run-off. This treatment is only effective on slopes 45 percent and lower. Most of the slopes in the burn area are 60 percent or above, so the mulching doesn't work there.
Roads will continue to be a problem until they can be built up and larger culverts installed. For now Nuck Woodward isn't passable.
Funding doesn't apply for the main road. Drainage problems will be addressed in South Hughes, Engineer and Nuck Woodward canyons.
For recreation, repairs and trail maintenance will take place with the installation of water bars and the removal of hazard trees. The safety of the people doing this repair work will be of prime importance. Closures will remain until these areas can be opened safely. Efforts are taking place to protect springs where the drinking water comes from for the communities. Seth reported that conditions change with every storm. It's difficult to predict where the next flooding episode will come from.
In the long term regeneration will be monitored. Aspen regeneration is critical for the wildlife. The wildlife will be monitored for pre-fire and post-fire numbers. Sediments into the river will be monitored to determine when it might support fish life again.
There are bridges that are burned out that will need to be replaced. Trails will be reconstructed, fences rebuilt and maintenance work carried out before trails can reopen. On the allotments, water troughs will need to be replaced and fencing rebuilt. The allotments will need to rest for two growing seasons and the soonest grazing will be allowed is the fall of 2014.
Huntington/Cleveland Irrigation has removed as much debris as they can from the river. Lands have been damaged, power lines will need to be replaced; debris will need to be cleaned up, reports are the settling ponds at Hiawatha are full.
PacifiCorp continues to monitor the flows in the creek to get information to stay on top of the water situation.
UDOT will work on continued road maintenance of SR-31 after storm events.
Crews have started the work on the forest with preliminary funding approved for roads and trails and additional funding will become available in the next couple of weeks.
Wayne Greenhalgh a representative from the NRCS talked of funds available to help people with private land affected by the fire. One program he said can assist farmers and ranchers is the Emergency Watershed Program.
John Crofts from the state of Utah talked about flood insurance and how it might be a good idea for home owners and business owners that could be impacted by flooding.