Southwest Idaho’s nearly 300,000 acre Soda Fire is the largest this year in areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Most of the burned area was habitat for the sage grouse, the bird whose status as a contender for the Endangered Species List could affect ranching, recreation and energy production in 11 western states. That is why the national director of the BLM was in Boise Wednesday to talk about rehabilitating that land.
Neil Kornze says his agency has to quickly start re-seeding the Soda Fire burn scar to keep invasive species like cheatgrass from overwhelming native plants like sage brush. But more importantly the BLM director says, they have to keep working on that land for the decades it could take to bring it back to full health.
Kornze says the bureau has often planted seeds in burned land and called it quits. He says the BLM is shifting its priorities to focus more on land rehabilitation.
“In the past, funding limitations and other areas of focus have drawn us away from that,” Kornze says. “But we have to be sure that this is not just a short term commitment to this landscape. It is a long term commitment. And I think the Soda Fire is a great place for us to demonstrate that effort, that priority.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide next month if the sage grouse should be listed as an endangered species. The BLM does not want that to happen. Since the biggest threat to the bird is loss of habitat, Kornze says committing to restoring habitat lost to fire shows his agency's overall commitment to the grouse’s long term future.
Kornze says restoring the Soda Fire land will cost more than $10 million, possibly a lot more.
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