South Dakota politicians covet Forest Service land in Black Hills

The four highest ranking politicians in South Dakota are backing legislation that would require the U.S. Forest Service to turn over two of the most beautiful areas of the Black Hills National Forest to the state. In exchange for approximately 2,000 acres, the USFS would receive an equal number of acres from four parcels in three counties scattered around the state. The size of the parcels could be adjusted based on an appraised value.

Pushing the land grab are Governor Dennis Daugaard, Senator John Thune, Senator Mike Rounds, and Representative Kristi Noem. The Senators have co-sponsored a bill in the Senate and Representative Noem has introduced similar legislation in the House.

The South Dakota politicians are trying to take from the federal government two of the crown jewels of the Black Hills National Forest — Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake.

Spearfish Canyon
Spearfish Canyon, Google Street View

The state wants 1,468 acres in Spearfish Canyon. The road through the canyon, framed by towering 1,000-foot limestone canyon walls, is officially designated as a Scenic Byway. South of the city of Spearfish, it attracts large numbers of visitors to see the fall colors when the aspen turn brilliant yellow in September. One of the best known features is Bridal Veil Falls that cascades down a sheer 60-foot cliff alongside the road as it feeds the creeks that run through the canyon. Hikers enjoy the many trails that meander through the area. Fly fishermen take advantage of the incredibly scenic pools and rapids along the creek.

Bridal Veil Falls Spearfish Canyon
Bridal Veil Falls. Google Street View.

The second crown jewel the state wants to take from the federal government is 524 acres east of Custer, including Bismarck Lake. With the nearby campground, it is set amidst a scattering of aspen groves and Ponderosa pine at 5,000 feet. The lake supports populations of rainbow and brown trout, a variety of sunfish, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and catfish. At the campground, a short foot trail traverses the forested shoreline, offering opportunities for birding in early morning or picnicking in the afternoon.

Bismark Lake
Bismarck Lake, east of Custer, SD. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Bismark Lake
Bismarck Lake. Photo by Peg Sperlich.

The parcels of land the four politicians want to trade for these crown jewels are in the counties of Lyman, Pennington, and Lawrence.

Lyman County
Central Lyman County. Google Street View.

We don’t know exactly where in those counties the land is that the politicians want to trade for the USFS land, but the photo above is a typical scene in central Lyman County in the middle of the state, more than 150 miles east of the Black Hills National Forest.

If the land grab occurs, the state would use Spearfish Canyon to expand its Roughlock Falls Nature Area and designate it as a state park. The 640 acres around Bismarck Lake would be added to Custer State Park.

In written testimony during a Senate hearing last week about the bill, the USFS opposed the transfer of land. Leslie Weldon, the Forest Service’s deputy chief of the National Forest System, wrote, “the bill is unnecessary and contains provisions that raise concerns.”

Below is an excerpt from an article at NewsCenter1:

“Normally in a land exchange process, just like in a real estate transaction, you have a willing buyer, a willing seller, or at least two willing parties, and you have a mutually beneficial agreement,” said Mark Van Every, forest supervisor for the Black Hills National Forest. “And in this particular case, we don’t believe that this land exchange is mutually beneficial.”

Van Every said the Forest Service has invested heavily in both the Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake areas, from campgrounds to trails and more. In addition to that predicted revenue loss, he said the Forest Service was not consulted on the bill.

Geese at Bismarck Lake
Geese on Bismarck Lake. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

“The state of South Dakota has proven time and again that it can preserve and protect South Dakota’s natural resources while providing unparalleled outdoor experiences that attract people from across the state and nation,” said Senator Thune. “I’m confident this track record will lend itself to creating similar opportunities in the Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake areas once this land exchange is completed.”

Senator John Thune and Representative Kristi Noem are up for reelection in November.

Loma Fire causes evacuations south of San Jose, Calif.

(UPDATED at 8:12 a.m. PDT September 28, 2016)

The video below of the Loma Fire was broadcast live by UPS driver Carlos Daniel Canche on the afternoon of September 26 apparently soon after it started near Loma Chiquita Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Jose, California. There is discussion in the video’s comments about the popping noises heard in the video. According to Matt Streck with CAL FIRE, the Loma Fire began as a structure fire, so the popping could be ammunition going off as the structure burns. Other items at structure fires also make popping noises, like aerosol cans, tires, and small propane tanks without relief valves. Trees do not explode in fires.

The Loma Fire has burned about 3,100 acres as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, an increase of about 2,000 acres over the previous 24 hours. In addition to the house at which the fire originated, six outbuildings have been destroyed.

Mandatory evacuations are still in place for some areas in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The fire is burning in the Mt. Loma Prieta, Mt. Chual and Uvas Creek drainages.

map Loma Fire
Map of the Loma Fire at 10 p.m. PDT September 27, 2016.

The fire is being fought by 1,092 personnel, 102 engines, 39 hand crews, 23 helicopters 19 dozers, and 16 water tenders.


(Originally published at 11:13 a.m. MDT September 27, 2016)

Loma Fire
Loma Fire, September 26, 2016, by Scott Balentine.

The Loma Fire has burned one structure and is threatening 300 others in the Santa Cruz Mountains 7 miles south of the greater metropolitan area of San Jose, Campbell, Cupertino, and Los Gatos in northern California. Mandatory evacuations are in place for the Loma Prieta ridgeline area.

Continue reading “Loma Fire causes evacuations south of San Jose, Calif.”

Water tender rolls over en route to Sawmill Fire in northern California

CAL FIRE reports there were no injuries in the rollover

water tender rollover
A U.S. Coast Guard water tender rolled over while en route to the Sawmill Fire. Photo by Kent Porter; used with permission.

(UPDATED at 9:14 a.m. PDT September 27, 2016)

Firefighters have stopped the spread of the Sawmill Fire in northern California that burned 1,541 acres on a south facing slope along Geysers Road 26 miles north of Santa Rosa. Roads connecting geothermal facilities at the top of the ridge served as anchors for burnout operations.

3-D map Sawmill Fire
3-D map of the Sawmill Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 26, 2016.


(Originally published at 8:23 a.m. PDT September 26, 2016)

A water tender rolled over while responding to the Sawmill Fire in northern California September 25. CAL FIRE reported that there were no injuries during the accident that occurred on Geysers Road in Sonoma County.

The Sawmill Fire started Sunday and by evening CAL FIRE estimated it had burned 1,500 acres. The fire is off Big Geysers Road 26 air miles north of Santa Rosa and 14 miles southwest of the community of Clear Lake. Sunday night mandatory evacuations were in place for residents in the Geysers.

DC-10 drop sawmill fire
DC-10 drops on the Sawmill Fire, September 25, 2016. Photo by Kent Porter, used with permission.

On September 21 the rollover of a water tender enroute to the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California resulted in the death of a firefighter.

map sawmill fire
Map of the Sawmill Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 25, 2016.

Most people do not think of the U.S. Coast Guard as having land-based firefighting apparatus, but the agency’s large training center just west of Petaluma, California has a full fire department.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the rollover of fire apparatus while assigned to a wildland fire are tagged “rollover”.

Santa Ana winds increasing in southern California

The weather station at Chilao recorded a gust of 58 mph at 10:53 a.m. PDT on Sunday.

red flag conditions

At 11:11 a.m. PDT 17 weather stations in southern California met the criteria for Red Flag Conditions. Five of them at that time had recorded gusts  of 40 and above, with Chilao having sustained winds out of the northeast at 30 mph with a gust of 58. The extreme fire weather conditions are predicted to continue on Monday, but with less severe winds.

The map below is a screen grab from an animated wind map (which is mesmerizing to watch).

wind map

Strong north or northeast winds bring Red Flag Warnings to areas in California


Strong north or northeast winds have brought Red Flag Warnings to the Sacramento Valley and southern California. These conditions will persist into Monday in southern California, but with decreasing wind speeds.

The Red Flag map above was current as of 9:45 a.m. MDT on Sunday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts and maps. For the most current data visit this NWS site. However, that site has not been properly displaying warning areas in recent days. This one may work better.

santa ana wind forecast

The map above illustrates conditions for Sunday, September 25.