Wind Cave antelope

pronghorn antelope

In a quick trip to Wind Cave National Park this evening I ran across pronghorn antelope, elk, and of course bison. Here’s one of them.

This guy is standing in the location of the April 13, 2015 prescribed fire. The critters in the park are enjoying the lush green grass that has come back.

Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Buckskin Fire burning in footprint of 2002 Biscuit Fire

(UPDATE at 7:04 a.m. PT, June 15, 2015)

Buckskin Fire

Buckskin Fire on June 14, 2015. Photo by Kris Sherman.

The Buckskin Fire 10 miles southwest of Cave Junction, Oregon spread east Sunday across Baldface Creek and grew to 1,400 acres. Firefighters are  improving existing trails on the west side of the fire for a potential contingency containment line. Ten helitack and four rappellers were flown to the spot fires southwest of the main fire and constructed direct fireline, assisted by water drops from helicopters.

Firefighters are staying in remote spike camps close to the fire in order to reduce travel time and increase productivity.

The Buckskin Fire is burning in an area scorched by the Biscuit Fire that burned half a million acres in 2002.

Map of Buckskin Fire

Map showing the location of heat detected by a satellite on the Buckskin Fire, 12:32 a.m. June 15, 2015. The red squares are the most recent. (click to enlarge)


(UPDATE at 9:31 p.m. PT, June 13, 2015)

Buckskin Fire

Buckskin Fire, afternoon of June 13, 2015. MODIS.

The Buckskin Fire southwest of Cave Junction, Oregon was pushed by winds Saturday that varied from the northwest to the northeast causing the fire to spread on the southeast and southwest sides. As you can see in the satellite image above, the transport wind was consistently from the northeast.

The Crazy Peak weather station 13 miles southeast of the fire recorded winds Saturday afternoon of 2 to 3 mph with the highest gust being 9. The RH was in the 20s and the temperature was in the 70s. This is not, at least at that weather station, extreme fire weather, but apparently the Buckskin Fire spread easily through the footprint of the  2002 Biscuit Fire.

The Quail Prairie weather station 14 miles northeast of the fire recorded stronger winds on Saturday, 8 to 12 mph gusting up to 18 mph, with a low RH of 18% and temperatures in the mid-80s. It showed consistent north-northeast winds Saturday afternoon which jives with the satellite image above showing the  smoke plume drifting to the southwest.


(Originally published at 12:59 p.m. PT, June 13, 2015)

Buckskin Fire

The Buckskin Fire, shortly after the Siskiyou Rappel Crew arrived the day the was reported on June 11. Photo by Michael Bobic.

A wildfire in southwest Oregon is bringing back memories of a huge fire that burned the same area 13 years ago. The Biscuit Fire burned half a million acres in 2002 leaving a forest of snags — dead trees that are now burning in a new fire, the Buckskin Fire.

Firefighters are loath to fight fire in a snag forest because the tree skeletons burn through readily and frequently — crashing to the ground creating a very hazardous situation for anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Snags kill firefighters.

Map of Buckskin Fire

Map showing the location of the Buckskin Fire in southwest Oregon at 5 a.m. on June 13, 2015. The red, brown, and yellow squares represent heat detected by a satellite. The fire is in the center of the brown footprint of the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

The fire has burned about 1,200 acres 10 miles southwest of Cave Junction, Oregon, and five miles north of the California border. From the satellite photo above, it appears to be in the center of the old Biscuit Fire.

Firefighters are assessing the situation, contemplating strategies for the fire on steep slopes with an abundance of snags. Conventional direct tactics, constructing firelines on the edge of the burning area, may not be feasible because of the hazards of falling trees. Adding to the already complex situation is the weather — a Red Flag Warning for the area is in effect for Saturday and Sunday. A local 10-person fire crew is monitoring the fire growth and scouting options for placement of containment lines. The plan is for full suppression of the fire.

Doug Johnson’s Type 2 Incident Management Team assumed command Saturday morning.

Buckskin Fire

Buckskin Fire, unknown date. Photo by Brandon Colville.


Interior Department Awards $10 Million to Bolster Wildland Fire Resilience Projects Across the Country

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today, June 12, announced $10 million in funding for projects aimed at restoring the health and fire resilience of iconic landscapes nationwide. Project locations span from conifer forests, deserts and sagebrush-steppe in the West to the coastal plain of the Southeast. The 10 selected projects will leverage matching funds for treatments that will affect tens of millions of acres of public land, improving the integrity and resilience of forests and rangelands. The President’s FY 2016 Budget proposes $30 million for the program to provide multi-year support for landscape-scale projects and expand the program to new partnerships. This year marks the first time Congress provided funding for the Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes projects.

The Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program is a new approach to achieve fire resiliency across landscapes. The Program incorporates goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and Secretarial Order 3336, Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management, and Restoration, by ensuring that approved projects emphasize collaborative landscape-scale planning across multiple jurisdictions, lessen the risk from catastrophic wildfire, and enhance the protection of critical natural resources and watersheds. Four of the selected projects specifically target sagebrush-steppe ecosystems in the Great Basin, a focus of the Secretarial Order.

“These projects will help restore critical landscapes, which is essential for mitigating the impacts of fire and climate change,” said Secretary Jewell. “The benefits of increasing the resiliency of our lands and waters to wildfires are wide-ranging, from conserving native species like the greater sage-grouse to restoring rangelands, forests and watersheds. These projects support our efforts to protect our nation’s landscapes for this and future generations.”


Map of DOI projectsThe projects selected for funding in 2015 are listed below. A map, like the one above, and additional information on each project are available here.

  • Bruneau-Owyhee ($166,000) – Located in Idaho, the project will first treat conifer encroachment to benefit fire resiliency and the greater sage-grouse. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will work with several conservation organizations, the Idaho Department of Lands and Office of Species Conservation, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Owyhee County.
  • Grant Grove Peninsula ($89,000) – Located in California, the project seeks to restore fire resiliency in Sequoia groves and other conifer forests while also benefiting watershed health and habitat for Pacific Fisher. The National Park Service (NPS) will work with the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, University of California-Berkeley, and University of California-Davis.
  • Greater Sheldon Hart Mountain ($3,984,250) – Located in parts of Oregon, Nevada and California, the project focuses on restoring sagebrush shrub and native perennial grass/forb communities by controlling juniper expansion. The restoration work will benefit numerous wildlife species, including several that are listed or candidates under the Endangered Species Act, as well as a number of birds that rely on sagebrush-steppe habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will work with the BLM, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and partners, including conservation and hunting groups, private landowners and ranching associations, counties governments, the states of Oregon and Nevada, universities and other federal agencies.
  • Longleaf Pine – South Atlantic ($770,000) – Located in Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina and Virginia, the project will use prescribed burning to help restore resiliency in the fire-adapted Longleaf Pine ecosystem, benefitting the red-cockaded woodpecker and other state and federally listed species. The FWS will work with other federal agencies, South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative members (comprised of state and federal agencies), The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund and Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance.
  • Santa Clara Pueblo ($400,000) – Located in New Mexico, the project will complete restoration of the natural fire regime (the natural frequency, intensity, size, pattern, season, and severity of fire) on the mesa top lands, protecting ancient Cliff Dwellings, cultural sites, traditional food sources and watershed health. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the lead agency, with the Santa Clara Pueblo and other partners.
  • Southern Arizona ($150,750) – Located in Arizona, the project focuses on control of buffelgrass – an exotic fire-adapted invasive grass – in the Southwest desert, restoring natural fire regime and resilience to the biologically rich Sonoran Desert. The NPS will work with FWS, other federal agencies, Pima County and the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center (government agencies and non-government organizations).
  • Southern Utah ($2,605,000) – Located in Utah, the project will remove encroaching pinyon pine and juniper, vary the age of sagebrush communities, and establish vegetation to restore resilience of the landscape, benefitting the greater sage-grouse and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife. The BLM will work with other federal agencies, Utah state agencies, and Utah State University.
  • Southwest Colorado ($557,000) – Located in Colorado and Utah, the project seeks to restore wildland fire resilience across the landscape, including sagebrush communities and river corridors. Using prescribed fire, mechanical treatments and invasive species control, habitat will be improved for the listed Gunnison sage-grouse and a variety of wetland species. The likelihood of large landscape-scale wildfires will be reduced, improving public and firefighter safety. The BLM will work with FWS, NPS and U.S. Forest Service. Other partners include counties, state agencies, and organizations.
  • Valles Caldera ($883,000) – Located in New Mexico, the project seeks to improve the ability of ecosystems to recover from wildfires and other natural disturbance events, in order to sustain healthy forests and watersheds for future generations. The NPS will work with partners that include the U.S. Forest Service, New Mexico State Forestry, The Nature Conservancy, Jemez and Santa Clara Pueblo, universities, Amy Biehl High School, and other organizations.
  • Bi-State Sage-Grouse ($395,000) – Located in Nevada and California inside the Great Basin Desert, the project covers more than four million acres and addresses fire and habitat resiliency for sage-grouse and other wildlife. This project also improves local economies by providing woodland products to the public, tribes, and commercial entities. The BLM is partnering with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Great Basin Institute, and the NRCS.

Scientists study how, why butterflies survive fires

adult Frosted Alfin Butterfly

An adult frosted alfin butterfly

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Deciding how often and when to use prescribed fire can be tricky, especially when managing for rare butterflies, University of Florida scientists say.

That realization stems from a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural study in which researchers experimented with pupae — insects in their immature form between larvae and adults — of butterflies known to frequent fire-prone habitats of Florida.

Prescribed burns and wildfires can damage animals and plants in their paths. But they can also promote species and create habitat, maintaining the ecological balance of the forest and the region’s most frequent natural disturbance over the long term. Immature butterflies may die immediately following controlled burns, but populations can recover over time, with the amount of time depending on the species.

Scientists are concerned that butterflies with small, isolated populations may be in severe peril if their habitats are burned too frequently and in large blocks at a time, which can mean that butterfly refugia – unburned areas that provide refuge — are limited.

In the UF/IFAS study, scientists wanted to know how and why some butterflies survive wildfires and prescribed burns, particularly where the insect feeds and lays eggs on fire-adapted plants.

Prescribed fire, butterfly research

Prescribed fire for butterfly research

To date, most studies on the impact of fires on insects have been done in the Midwest, said Jaret Daniels, a UF/IFAS associate professor in entomology, who supervised the study as part of a dissertation by former UF doctoral student Matt Thom.

“We are increasingly faced with developing appropriate strategies to help conserve a growing list of rare organisms, including many insects,” Daniels said. “Understanding how prescribed fire and other land- management techniques impact these populations is critical to ensure their long-term survival.”

Thom also worked on the study with Leda Kobziar, a UF/IFAS associate professor in forest resources and conservation. The study appeared online May 27 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Although we have a fairly robust understanding of how fire affects plant communities, the relationships between fire and insects is a greater mystery,” Kobziar said. “How is it that some organisms sensitive to fire also depend on specific plants that require fire to persist in a given environment? This research helps provide answers to this question, while revealing how much more we need to know to conserve the full spectrum of species through science-based fire management.”

To find out how and why some butterfly species survive fires, UF/IFAS scientists tested pupae in two North Florida forests that are typically managed with prescribed burns. Thom and his colleagues studied atala hairstreak and frosted elfin, two butterfly species that frequent fire-prone habitats.

Researchers collected data on burial depth of the frosted elfin at the Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest in Nassau County. They conducted burn experiments with the atala hairstreak at the UF/IFAS Ordway Swisher Biological Station in Putnam County. They also put the pupae in laboratory baths at the UF Gainesville campus.

The atala hairstreak butterflies develop into pupae within or at the base of its host plant, while the frosted elfin sometimes goes down into the soil to pupate, Thom said.

In the experiment, scientists placed atala pupae at the soil surface and at different depths. The pupae died at the soil surface and in very shallow depths below ground, Thom said. However, when buried at 1.1 inch or more below ground, butterflies survived 75 percent to 100 percent of the time, as the temperature and the amount of heat they were exposed to decreased, Thom said. Scientists saw a similar pattern in their lab experiments.

“Butterfly pupae that bury themselves deep enough in the soil can protect themselves from fire,” said Thom.

But there are important caveats.

For example, if a non-adult atala lives in an area that’s burned, it will probably die, said Thom, now a post-doctoral scientist with the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The situation also isn’t very promising for the frosted elfin. But there’s hope.

“The patchiness of fires increases where fires occur more frequently, because there’s less leaf litter.  “Less material burning translates to decreased heating of the soil,” Thom said.  “A more patchy fire probably means pupae on the ground have a better chance for survival, and there are more refugia for escaping adults.”


Photos credit: Matt Thom, Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and former UF/IFAS doctoral student.


Northern California: Saddle Fire

Saddle Fire

Saddle Fire. USFS photo.

The Saddle Fire in northern California has burned about 1,000 acres in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It started from lightning on June 9 and beginning today will be managed by Molhoek’s Type 2 Incident Management Team.

The  fire is 5 miles northwest of Hyampom, 33 miles east of Eureka, and 60 miles west of Redding.

Map Saddle Fire

Map showing the location of the Saddle Fire in northwest California at 1:40 a.m. MT June 12, 2015. (Click to see a larger version.)

The Trinity County Sheriff’s Office implemented mandatory evacuations along County Road 311, also known as the Lower South Fork Road, north of Big Slide Campground to Manzanita Ranch. Residents of Hyampom are under an advisory evacuation. The Red Cross has an evacuation center at the Hayfork High School.

Map of Saddle Fire

Map of the Saddle Fire. The red, brown, and yellow squares represent heat detected by a satellite at 1:40 a.m. MT, June 12, 2015. The red squares are the most recent.


Red Flag Warnings, June 12, 2015

wildfire Red Flag Warnings, June 12, 2015

Areas of Washington, Oregon and northern California are under Red Flag Warnings today for gusty winds and low humidity.

The map above was current as of 7:20 a.m. MDT on Friday. 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 or this NWS site.