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

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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 ... continued below

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Irving, John S June 1, 2003.

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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 severe 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.

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  • National Association of Environmental Professionals,San Antonio, TX,06/22/2003,06/25/2003

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  • Report No.: INEEL/CON-02-01354
  • Grant Number: DE-AC07-99ID-13727
  • DOI: 10.2172/810961 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 910763
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc886964

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Reports, articles and other documents harvested from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.

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  • June 1, 2003

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Sept. 22, 2016, 2:13 a.m.

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  • Nov. 7, 2016, 7:51 p.m.

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Irving, John S. Using the National Environmental Policy Act to Fight Wildland Fires on the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, article, June 1, 2003; [Idaho Falls, Idaho]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc886964/: accessed December 10, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.