Friday, October 30, 2015

As big wildfires become routine, communities face cascading consequences

The stories were different in Southwest Idaho’s Owyhee County, where the Soda Fire incinerated cattle and rangeland. Fires in Idaho and Clearwater counties left Riggins and other tourism areas covered in smoke, closed public lands and destroyed homes and state and private timber. These are only the immediate effects on the people, the economy and the institutions of Idaho. More effects will be felt in the months and years ahead. Already Idaho County estimates it has lost more than $6 million in assessed value on its tax rolls because of the more than 50 homes that burned, said Commissioner Skip Brandt. Many of the people who lost homes, rangeland or crucial weeks of tourism-related business will suffer such deep financial costs they may be forced to leave. Ranchers in Owyhee County will wait two years or more — depending on how the land recovers — before they can put their cattle back on the public rangeland. Ranchers whose range burned in the Pony Fire south of Boise in 2013 won’t get cows back out there until 2016. This winter or spring, denuded slopes will erode away, and the resulting slides and floods will wreck roads and add more costs to counties, the state and federal governments. “We call these the cascading consequences of fire,” said Crystal Kolden, a University of Idaho geography professor and fire ecologist...more

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