Environment

Nicholas D. / Flickr

Smoke from wildfires continues to plague the Treasure Valley. Forecasters say things will get worse before they get better.

Winds are out of the northwest Friday and expected to be again Saturday. That will actually bring more smoke into the Treasure Valley.

Valerie Mills is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boise.

Boise National Forest

Three firefighters died after their vehicle crashed and was likely caught by flames as they battled a blaze in Washington State yesterday. Four other firefighters were injured.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NFIC) says 13 people have died battling the fires this year.

Driving is one of the leading causes of death for wildland firefighters. That can include driving to or from a fire, as well as on the fire line.

Randy Eardley of NFIC says every death is mourned.

John Robison / Idaho Conservation League

The accidental release of toxins into the Animas River in Colorado is a reminder of the long-term effects of mining. The decades-old gold mine had been dormant, but the toxins from the operation breached a dam there on the Environmental Protection Agency's watch.

Environmentalists around the West are pointing to the disaster, saying what happened in Colorado could happen in other states — including Idaho.

U.S. Forest Service

Smoky skies, from dozens of western wildfires, have prompted the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to issue an air quality advisory for the entire state of Idaho.

Such advisories are typically issued for individual counties or cities.

s. Hellstrom / InciWeb

The Soda Fire along the Oregon border has burned 440 square miles. The majority of those miles is rangeland in Owyhee County and that’s bad news for ranchers. There could be long-term effects to ranchers in the area.

More than 26 percent of jobs in Owyhee County come from agriculture, two-thirds of which comes from livestock operations. There are 145,000 cows in the county — 36,000 of them are beef cattle.

Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman

A new wilderness in Idaho is one step away.

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a bill protecting 275,000 acres in central Idaho.

The U.S. House or Representatives passed similar legislation last week meaning it now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Obama administration set carbon dioxide limits for electric power plants Monday. The objective is to combat climate change by clamping down on power plant pollution, especially coal-fired electricity.

Dan Dzurisin / Flickr Creative Commons

WildEarth Guardians accuses the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho of removing nearly 4 million acres from a previous plan to protect sage grouse habitat, and not being transparent about it. The environmental and wildlife advocacy group wants to see the threatened bird listed under the Endangered Species Act.

National Interagency Fire Center

When officials at the National Interagency Fire Service (NIFC) forecast the 2015 season, they made it clear that what we know of as “normal” in wildfires has shifted in recent years. Prolonged drought, larger and more difficult to manage fires, have become regular occurrences in the West.

Federal officials say that more than 90 percent of Idaho's counties have either been declared natural disaster areas or are bordering disaster areas because of prolonged drought.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Benewah, Bonner, Clearwater, Kootenai and Latah counties as the most recent regions to qualify as primary natural disaster areas.

The declaration means farmers and ranchers in those counties are eligible to apply for low interest federal emergency loans. Eligibility is open for eight months from the date of the declaration.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

The Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has decided it won't use an option made available by lawmakers earlier this year intended to speed the commission's natural gas and oil decision making process.

The commissioners with the 3-0 vote on Wednesday chose not to use the option given to them by lawmakers earlier this year that allowed the commission to exempt itself from the contested case provision in Idaho law.

For as long as humans have walked the Earth, we’ve been making changes to it – oftentimes with little or no comprehension about the far-reaching consequences of our actions. But in her book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert opens our eyes to the powerful and possibly catastrophic mass extinction unfolding right in front of us. 

Ada County Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement

Thursday night’s chemical bombardment of mosquitoes from a low-flying plane in Ada County went well before being interrupted by a storm. Weather permitting, the process will continue Friday night.

Brian Wilbur, Director of the Ada County Mosquito Abatement District, says the contracted plane sprayed parts of Star and Eagle around 10 p.m. Thursday. That gave the Dibrom Concentrate, which is a short-lived chemical, time to work before the rain moved in.

BLM Boise District

Idaho is among 12 states that will share $10 million from the Interior Department, which will be used to keep the threat of wildfire to a minimum in sensitive sage grouse habitat.

AgriLife Today / Flickr Creative Commons

The city-owned Oregon Trail Reserve is surrounded by homes. After a fast and hot-burning grassfire killed a woman and destroyed homes there in 2008, the Boise Fire Department began looking at new ways to deal with wildfire. The department used a grant from the Southwest Idaho Resource Conservation and Development Council to start using a different strategy: grazing goats to thin fire-fueling plants. 

Gerrit Vyn / Sage Brush Sea

A new documentary is airing on Idaho Public Television Friday. The "Sage Brush Sea" was filmed at different locations across the 11-state sage brush ecosystem, including in Idaho. The producers of the film are trying to raise the profile of this landscape, and the struggling sage grouse it supports.

Sally Jewell, sage grouse
Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell met with Idaho state officials, fire managers and ranchers Tuesday about a new strategy to protect greater sage grouse habitat from wildfire. The 82-page plan is part of a larger effort among 11 western states trying to keep the threatened bird off the Endangered Species List. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide whether to list the bird in September.

Ben Amstutz / Flickr Creative Commons

Skinny Dipper hot springs was illegally built in the 1990s and now the Bureau of Land Management is dismantling the popular site.

Skinny Dipper is located about an hour outside Boise off the Banks-to-Lowman highway. The site is a half mile hike up a steep trail, and the pools overlook the Payette River.

The plan is to remove the pools and reseed the area, closing the trails in the area for five years to try and get the landscape back to a more natural state.

Aaron Maizlish / Flickr

Federal officials have announced more than $4 million in projects in four states as part of a wildfire-fighting strategy to protect a wide swath of intermountain West sagebrush country that supports cattle ranching and is home to a struggling bird species.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will use the money in Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Oregon to counter wildfire threats, invasive grasses and juniper trees encroaching in sagebrush habitat.

Thomas Hawk / Flickr Creative Commons

Fremont County is the most recent addition of Idaho communities to receive a drought emergency declaration from the state. Blaine, Lincoln, Butte and Custer counties were given the designation on April 10, the earliest time for a state-approved drought declaration in the last five years.

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