trailheadfireblowsup.jpg
The “Trailhead fire” comes boiling over the top of the Sawtooth Range into Stanley Basin.
Copyright Lynne Stone

The mountains around Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Valley, Idaho, have, in recent years, witnessed a huge die-off of lodgepole pine. This relatively short-lived pine is plenty flammable even when it is green. When dead, it is explosive! Nowhere is the die off more visible to people than the big, dying apron of pine that cloaks the lower slopes of the famed Sawtooth Range.

Everyone knew this forest would die someday, and in recent years many (but not all) of the folks who own summer homes and cabins have thinned the trees around their places, and the Forest Service has conducted some fire danger reduction and salvage operations. Nevertheless, the supply of dead timber is vast and could accommodate a huge fire. I’m surprised it didn’t burn a couple years ago.
Last year, to my surprise it was the Valley Road fire in the nearby White Clouds that blew up, briefly threatening tiny Clayton, downriver from Stanley. Earlier, this year the Potato Fire mushroomed in the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, also downriver from Stanley. Now the forest beneath the Sawtooths is threatened and 3000 acres on edge burned on August 24.

This is important wolf range. There are two wolf packs in the vicinity of the fire, but the wolves and the elk and deer they eat are not likely to harmed by a big burn, especially in the long run. Instead, the mid-term result will likely be the creation of a lot more summer elk habitat as grasses fill the burn.

It is notable that several other big fires have erupted nearby — the Red Mountain Fire, and the Boundary Fire (now named the Boundary Fire complex)

Update September 8. The winds never again threatened to push the fire directly into Stanley Basin. It was pushed onto the rocks, and it was contained at 4,252 acres.

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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