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Report will look at restoring damaged wilderness

Nik Dirga, Sierra Sun

The fire may be mostly out, but hard work still remains for U.S. Forest Service experts guiding restoration efforts in the 14,500 acres scorched by the Martis Fire.

A Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) team has been assigned to the fire to determine the rehabilitation practices to be employed in damaged areas.

Once the BAER team has assessed the damage, a report will be prepared recommending a course of action. That report will be released within the next week.

The report will break down the Martis Fire into a burn intensity map, showing the fire’s effect on vegetation and soil.

“(The report) will look at where problems are and where they need to be dealt with,” said Maureen Joplin, U.S. Forest Service hydrologist/geologist.

Two of the more sensitive areas damaged by the fire are the Bronco Creek and Gray Creek drainages, isolated gorges to the west of Mount Rose between Incline Village and Truckee.

“The Bronco Creek canyon received the most fire damage,” said Joplin. “But Gray Creek is the most sensitive drainage in the area.”

Forest Service officials worry about erosion that may occur in the canyons because of the fire, and increased sediment that may flow into the creeks as a result.

In 1992, Gray Creek flooded and contaminated some of Reno’s water supply. Such an event is not as likely today, said Joplin.

“Reno’s water supply is better protected than in the past,” she said.

Still, if the winter is extremely heavy in precipitation, the integrity of the creek could be compromised. In the BAER team’s report, treatments for the area will be proposed.

Treatments the BAER team may recommend include slope treatments, channel treatments and ditch treatments, all designed to shore up unstable areas without interfering too much with the ecosystem.

Seeding with quick-growing crops that will help firm up the soil and rock without driving out existing species is one option.

“We have a number of things we can try to do to mitigate the runoff and restore vegetation,” said Joplin. “No one treatment is sufficient to treat every ill and every fire.”

The damage from the Martis Fire to sensitive wilderness areas is less than was originally feared, when smoke from the fire clouded area skies.

“Early in the fire there was so much smoke you couldn’t see the fire,” said Joplin. “The BAER team was unanimously relieved to see so much ground cover unburned.”

“What gets lost in a case like this is that fire is a natural event,” she noted. “We already have seen some greening up in the burnt areas.”

Besides geological impact on the land itself, other agencies are exploring the fire’s damage on wildlife.

“We’re really concerned what the impact will be on Lahontan cutthroat trout,” said Jim Harvey, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife offices in Reno. “We try to make sure anything being done is fish-friendly.”

But the fire will probably not have a significant effect on the endangered fish species, he noted. Other wildlife that was displaced by the fire will eventually return.

“All of the species that were impacted by this fire fled to a new area,” said Harvey. “It will take time for the populations to return.”

Despite man’s best efforts, the ultimate rehabilitator in the Martis Fire will be nature itself.

“If you ask when this will be rehabilitated back to being a full-grown forest, the answer is hundreds of years,” said Debby Broback with the U.S. Forest Service. “None of us will be around to see that.”


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