The New Owyhee

The New Owyhee

June 6, 2016

A massive wildfire burned thousands of acres of land in Idaho last August. The “Soda Fire” was declared "out" on September 9, 2015, but the devastation it left behind affected thousands, including one Idaho rancher. 

Rancher Ed Wilsey is a survivor. After losing 100% of his grazing land and dozens of cattle in the 2015 Soda Fire that consumed over 260,000 acres on the Idaho-Oregon border, he’s rebuilding.

“It burned 100% of our buildings here. It's pretty devastating for us,” said Wilsey, who now has to buy a whole new herd of cattle after the devastation.

Range re-hab, getting new grass to grow, on both private and public land has been underway since the fire burnt-out last fall. Dave Bunker of Branch Enterprises is a contractor for the BLM, assigned to the Owyhee re-hab project. He is pleased with how the project is going thus far. “Seeding is mostly dependent on moisture and we had good moisture this past winter and spring. It's a success!” he declares. Bunker also asserts that human intervention is mandatory to make the Owyhee Desert liveable once more.

Another issue is the presence of cheatgrass in the Owyhee. Cheatgrass infestations are common, but but the grass is not native to the area, and it quickly becomes a fire hazard. Cindy Fritz of the BLM says the area is now a big research project on how to control cheatgrass.

Cattle grazing may be allowed back on BLM allotments after grass seed ripens in the second year.  The one thing that never changes in the Owyhee – the resilience and determination of the desert cowboys who call the place home.

Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, recently announced that $10 million will go toward making landscapes more resilient against wildfires across the country. 

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