Friday two dozen high school students from the Treasure Valley will present research they’ve done as part of a summer science program. Their research helps government agencies make wildfire decisions.
Bailey Maier displays a poster featuring maps of the World Center for Birds of Prey. They show what plants grow where. Maier points to one map heavily shaded in red. It’s cheatgrass she says. The red is where the invasive weed grows in heavy concentration.
Maier and her partner Courtney Stoker just graduated from Borah High School and have spent the last three weeks learning fire science as part of the FIRE up program. FIRE stands for field inquiry research experience. Stoker says she joined the program because she wanted to do real science.
“It’s really awesome having something that you can actually go out into the field and gather the data yourself rather than having someone just give it to you and then you do what they want you to do with it,” she says. “When you look at these maps it’s not just a color coded thing, it’s actually something that we did, you know, our blood sweat and tears are in that.”
Stoker and Maier mapped about 300 acres of desert on foot using a variety of tools including high tech GPS equipment. The maps they made give managers at the birds of prey center valuable information about fire risks. Remember that cheatgrass shown in red on the map? That’s bad news during fire season.
FIRE up is in its ninth year. The Bureau of Land Management is the program’s principal sponsor. The BLM official who oversees the program says the research the students have done in the past has been used by a number of government entities and organizations to make land use decisions and plan fire prevention strategies. Last year Fire up participants mapped vegetation in an area where Boise homes met open land.