Wednesday, January 2, 2013

From Conflict to Teamwork: Ranchers Form Idaho's First Rangeland Fire Protection Association with BLM and State

In the spring of 2012, BLM Boise District's Fire Management and IDL provided eighteen RFPA members with basic fire training, to include principles of fighting wildland fires. This training opened the door for a positive working relationship for all parties involved. Prior to forming the RFPA, local ranchers had no way to help the BLM fight fires on public rangelands. They lacked the training, personal protective equipment, and radios for communication. And ranchers' independent, uncoordinated actions created an unsafe environment. As a fire organization, the ranchers now work with BLM fire crews to reach common objectives while enhancing safety and firefighting efficiency.
Mountain Home ranchers participating in wildland fire suppression training with Idaho Department of Lands and the Bureau of Land Management.
In southern Idaho, there are currently 2.2 million acres that lack any formal fire protection. The RFPA helps fill part of this gap since ranchers are often first on scene and can help until the BLM arrives to form a coordinated effort. "We do make a living off this land," says Charlie Lyons, a Mountain Home rancher. Mountain Home rancher John McGrew agrees. "If we can keep that range productive, it's good for us and it's good for the game animals. That's my primary concern. It's such a waste of resources to watch it go up in smoke."
Map showing boundaries of the Mountain Home Rangeland Fire Protection Association area in southwestern Idaho.
The agreement between the RFPA and BLM Idaho was put to use for the first time on the Stout Fire near Mountain Home in July, when ranchers helped battle the lightning-caused blaze. "This was the first fire we interacted on and incorporated the Rangeland Fire Protection Association into suppression operations, and it went very well," says Steve Acarregui, fire operations manager for the BLM Boise District. "Some of the actual firefighting resources they provided were dozers, water tenders and engines; they did a lot of line construction; and it was very beneficial." The training and coordination on fires has drastically changed the working relationships between ranchers and the BLM.

Other groups have noticed the success of this organization and have expressed interest in forming similar associations in southwestern Idaho.

Story by: Nick Yturri, BLM Boise District Fire Mitigation Specialist

Reprinted from "The BLM Daily," December 20, 2012

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