Fast moving forest fire threatens Stanley, Idaho area

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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Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan