The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Boise District Office, Boise, Idaho, and the BLM Vale District Office, Vale, Oregon have analyzed a system of roadside fuel breaks to improve suppression coordination and response across a 3.6 million-acre project area spanning the southeastern corner of Oregon and southwestern corner of Idaho. The Tri-state Fuel Breaks Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was released on April 3, 2020, initiating a 30-day availability period. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released for public comment on October 11, 2019, and the 45-day comment period ended on November 25, 2019. All substantive comments received on the DEIS were considered in the development of the FEIS. The FEIS introduced Alternative 5, the preferred alternative. This alternative blended elements of Alternatives 2, 3 and 4 that were analyzed in the DEIS to provide a strategic benefit to firefighters while minimizing disturbance to natural and cultural resources. Under the preferred alternative (Alternative 5), the BLM would reduce fuel loading along established roads within the project area to create 987 miles of fuel breaks. The proposed fuel breaks would connect to existing fuel breaks within northern Nevada to improve firefighting coordination across jurisdictional and state boundaries. This fuel break network would allow the BLM and its partners (e.g., Rangeland Fire Protection Associations) to better protect the area, as well as the wildlife and multiple-use activities it supports, from wildland fire.
The convergent area (Tri-state) of Southwest Idaho, Southeast Oregon and Northern Nevada is one of the largest intact strongholds of sage-grouse habitat in the Northern Great Basin. The shrub-steppe ecosystem within this area is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States. This area has been identified in the Greater Sage-Grouse Wildfire, Invasive Annual Grasses and Conifer Expansion Assessment (FIAT) as a Priority Area of Conservation (PAC) to address the threat of wildfires, invasive annual grasses and conifer expansion. Management of wildfire has been identified as one of the key issues in maintaining sage-grouse populations in sagebrush dominated landscapes. The Rapid Eco-regional Assessment of the Northern Basin and Range and Snake River Plain published in 2010 identified the Tri-state area as high risk for large scale wildfires.
Wildfires in this remote area can grow quickly and affect hundreds of thousands of acres of sage-grouse habitat in a matter of days or within a single burning period. From 2016 through July 2018, over four million acres of sage-grouse habitat burned from wildfires nationwide. The Long Draw Fire (2012), Buzzard Complex Fire (2014), and Martin Fire (2018) all burned hundreds of thousands of acres within a twenty-four hour period. Because of the area’s remoteness, the high potential for large wildfires, long firefighter response times, and limited sites for firefighters to establish safe anchor points to engage wildfires, strategic measures must be taken to protect this threatened landscape.