BURLEY — The U.S. Forest Service wrapped up aerial seeding on the Badger Fire this week.
The 90,000-acre Badger Fire burned nearly a third of the South Hills this fall in Twin Falls and Cassia counties. In an effort to speed up regrowth and reestablish habitat for wildlife, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have been laying down native seed on some of the burned area.
Pheasants Forever, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management assisted with the Forest Service’s seeding efforts. Pheasants Forever paid for much of the seeding, sagebrush seed came from the BLM’s Shoshone seed warehouse and Idaho Fish and Game paid for sagebrush seeding in the Dry Creek and Rock Creek areas.
The Forest Service managed to seed 4,400 acres with native grasses, flowers and shrubs. Those efforts included 700 acres in the Hudson Ridge area on the east side of the South Hills and 3,600 acres worth of seed in the Dry Creek and Rock Creek areas.
Hudson Ridge includes some important sage grouse habitat, while herds of mule deer spend their winters in the Rock Creek and Dry Creek areas.
The Forest Service flew the seed on with airplanes, aiming for days with light winds so the seed wouldn’t blow away. Getting seed on the ground before snowfall was important. Snow provides a protective blanket, shielding seeds from wind and predators. Seeds are also more likely to germinate after they’ve been covered with snow.
As the forest begins to regenerate after the Badger Fire, elk and moose will probably be OK. Mule deer — the South Hills' most abundant ungulate species — are going to struggle. But there are also things you can do to help them.
In addition to flying on seed, the Forest Service masticated about 1,000 acres of juniper snags in the Trapper Creek drainage on the east side of the South Hills. That mastication project — which effectively entailed turning the juniper snags into woodchips — should reduce soil erosion and increase seed germination rates. The juniper wood chips hold soil and seed in place.
“We expect a robust vegetation response from the treatment,” Minidoka Ranger District Fuels Specialist Stacy Tyler said in a press release.
Minidoka Ranger District Wildlife Biologist Scott Soletti said in a press release that seeding Hudson Ridge should help stave off the spread of invasive species to some extent. Getting sagebrush seed on the ground right after the fire should also help the shrubs come back quicker, helping sage grouse.
Rehab efforts have already begun in the South Hills. The land is starting to come back.
In Dry Creek and Rock Creek, the intent is to reestablish shrubs. Mule deer need sagebrush and bitterbrush during the winter months — they have a hard time surviving on grass alone.
“We really need more snow over the fire area to improve post-fire vegetation response,” Soletti said.
The Forest Service will likely plant bitterbrush and sagebrush this fall. The Forest Service and Fish and Game will need volunteers to help with those projects.
For further information about ongoing management activities on the Badger Fire, contact Scott Soletti at 208-678-0430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.