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Title: Using the National Environmental Policy Act to Fight Wildland Fires on the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory

The decade of the 90s saw an average of 106,000 wildland fires each year, resulting in an average yearly loss of 3.7 million acres across the United States. The total number of acres burned during the past decade exceeded 36 million acres (about 57 thousand square miles). This is an area about the size of the state of Iowa. The impact from wildland fires on federal lands came to the nation’s attention in May of 2000, when the "Cerro Grande" fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico burned 47,650 acres while destroying 235 structures. Firefighting activities for federal agencies alone exceeded 1.3 billion dollars in 2000. The dollar amount spent on firefighting does not approach the dollars lost in terms of timber resources, homes, and wildlife habitat. Following several fires on U. S. Department of Energy lands, the Deputy Secretary of Energy placed a moratorium on "prescribed burns" in June 2000. From 1994 to 2000, about 130,000 acres of the INEEL (or the Site) and several hundred thousand acres of surrounding Bureau of Land Management lands burned on the Snake River Plain of southeast Idaho. The fires on the INEEL threatened facilities and exposed soils to wind erosion, resulting in severemore » dust storms, affecting operations and creating traffic hazards for weeks. Most of the acreage burned on the Site between 1994 and 2000 is recovering well. With the exception of sagebrush, most native plant species are recovering. However, cheatgrass, a non-native species is a component. In isolated areas, cheatgrass and other annual non-native weeds are dominant. If this situation persists and the Site does not change the way it manages wildland fires, and there is no intervention to reduce cheatgrass and manage for sagebrush, the Site may transition from sagebrush steppe to cheatgrass. This would have cascading effects not only on wildland fires management, but also on wildlife and on their habitat. This paper describes how to use the NEPA process to identify different ways decision-makers can manage wildland fires and evaluate the trade-offs between management activities such as pre-fire, suppression, and post-fire activities. In addition, the paper compares the potential impact of each fire management activity on air, water, wildlife/habitat, and cultural resources. Finally, we describe the choices facing the decision-makers, how to implement the decisions, and the role the environmental assessment played in those decisions.« less
Authors:
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
910763
Report Number(s):
INEEL/CON-02-01354
TRN: US200802%%140
DOE Contract Number:
DE-AC07-99ID-13727
Resource Type:
Conference
Resource Relation:
Conference: National Association of Environmental Professionals,San Antonio, TX,06/22/2003,06/25/2003
Research Org:
Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
Sponsoring Org:
DOE - EM
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 - ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; CULTURAL RESOURCES; HABITAT; INEEL; LOS ALAMOS; MANAGEMENT; SNAKE RIVER PLAIN; US NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT INEEL; wildland fires