EPHRATA — The state is considering how to help restore the landscape burned by the Pearl Hill Fire.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife employees went out to survey fire damage before the smoke even cleared completely, Land Operations Manager Rich Finger said. The fire scorched more than 223,000 acres, including large areas in Douglas County.
There are quite a few little islands of shrub steppe remaining. Finger said he has no idea on the number or size of those islands.
Wildlife employees also found large swaths where the fire burned down the soil, leaving nothing behind.
“That’s where you start to get a little bit concerned,” Finger said. “Because when you have the dense sage brush, the fire burns hotter and fires are more likely to sterilize the ground.”
One of the questions the agency has is whether the density of the native bunch grasses will be high enough for them to make a return, he said.
“I don’t have a ton of experience working on burns,” Finger said. “But I’d like to think those (grasses) are probably going to come back, particularly if we get enough rain.”
The sagebrush that burned, though, is gone for sure as it can’t resprout after a fire, he said.
The agency is also concerned about the potential for the top soil to be blown away by strong winds or be carried away by flood waters, he said. But the worst combination could come from a mixture of heavy rain on snowmelt in the spring.
“There is certainly the flash flooding potential there, but I would be more worried about the snow melt,” Finger said.
The agency is considering options to help prevent runoff, such as coir logs that are packed in a netting and staked to the ground.
“There is a challenge of scale,” Finger said. “There is a significant cost with coir logs and other tools that we have to try and mitigate, so that kind of pushes us to consider seeding options.”
The agency will return later this year, around November, to take seed samples from sagebrush and attempt to reseed parts of the landscape, he said. But they have a lot of ground to cover.
“We can’t even do a fraction of what’s burned,” Finger. “So we’re going to figure out what’s the most successful to do that and we’ve got to prioritize where we put the seed.”