Friday, May 20, 2016

Report on U.S. Forest Service preparations for 2016 wildfire season and unfavorable wildfire trends

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on May 17 met with Regional Foresters representing areas expected to be at greatest risk during the 2016 wildfire season to discuss their preparations to fight fires across the United States.

Last year, seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team were lost in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed. The job of fighting wildfires has become increasingly difficult due to the effects of climate change, chronic droughts, and a constrained budget environment in Washington.

At least 58 million acres of National Forest System lands are in or near the Wildland Urban Interface and work now can reduce risk to life, homes, businesses and infrastructure. On the call, Chief Tidwell will underscore the Forest Service’s commitment to ensuring the protection of firefighters’ lives.

Climate change has led to fire seasons that are, on average, 78 days longer than they were in 1970, and the average number of acres burned each year has doubled since 1980.

As a result, the Forest Service's firefighting budget is regularly exhausted before the end of the wildfire season, forcing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to abandon critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress extreme fires.

Over half of the Forest Service’s 2015 budget was used to fight wildfires, compared to just 16 percent in 1995.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Orofino LoggerXross May 13-14


Two nights of racing and entertainment are set for the 2016 Orofino LoggerXross, held Friday and Saturday, May 13-14, at the Orofino City Park lumberjack arena.

Sign-ups for Friday are 3 to 5:30 p.m., and the riders meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Friday’s opening ceremonies begin at 6 p.m. Friday’s practice is at 6:15 p.m.

Saturday’s sign-ups are 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with a rider’s meeting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday practice is at 12 noon. Amateur qualifiers are at 2 p.m. Saturday, and opening ceremonies begin at 6 p.m.

Classes include: 65cc, 85cc, women’s, beginners, lightweight, heavyweight, trials, vet, and expert, plus pro women and pro men. The purse for pro men is $10,000, and $2,000 for pro women.

First, second, and third place trophies will be awarded both days. Race fees per day are $35 amateur and $50 pro. For spectators, gate fees are $15 for a wristband, with free admission for children ages five and under.

A new PA system will be in use at this year’s races. Scott Heaton from the Monster Jam Racing series will once again be this year’s announcer. Singing the National Anthem Friday night will be Savanna Simmons. Joan Bonnalie will sing it Saturday.
An amazing line-up of talented riders are expected to race, and there will also be food vendors, Orofino Chamber of Commerce’s beer garden, and motorsports vendors from all over the area.

Race sponsors include: Idaho Forest Group, Fly Racing, Western Power Sports, Inc., Kenda, and Works Connection.

For more information, call Jim Engle at 208-816-6253, or check out Orofino LoggerXross on Facebook.

Pictured: Sean Simmons of Orofino racing in the 2015 LoggerXross. Photo by Tabby Haskett

Friday, May 6, 2016

Record high April melt decreases snowpacks across Idaho

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has just released the fifth water supply outlook report for the 2016 water year. What a difference a month makes. Near normal snowpack covered the majority of Idaho, and the NRCS monitoring region, at the beginning of April.

The beginning of May, however, tells a much different story. Snow across much of the state has melted at a record high rate during April.

Reservoirs and lakes remain in good shape across Idaho and are capturing this year’s snowmelt runoff to store and put to use as we enter the dry summer months.

April precipitation across the state covered the extremes: from well-below to well-above average depending on location. Most areas received below average monthly precipitation.

The lowest precipitation amounts occurred in the Snake River headwaters above Jackson Lake, while Idaho’s southern border from the Owyhee to the Raft basin received from 112% to 150% of normal.

“Precipitation amounts received since the start of the water year on Oct. 1, 2015 remains encouraging with the whole state reporting 92% of average or better,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with NRCS. “However, those areas with deficits are worth watching and may not improve much as we move into our dry summer months.”

Streamflow forecasts reflect the early melt, early runoff and dry April by shifting forecasts down a notch and are now 70 to 90% of average across most of the state. The exceptions are the high desert streams south of the Snake River from the Bruneau to Oakley Reservoir inflow which are forecast at 100 to 125% of average.

“One of the key variables to watch now is nighttime air temperatures,” said Abramovich. “If they dip below freezing which will slow down melting of the pack. But, if daytime temperatures approach near record highs, there is still enough snow to generate additional streamflow increases across much of the state.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Orofino Activity Connection Plan update

By Elizabeth Morgan

The Fitness and Youthful Activity group, a subcommittee of Orofino Chamber of Commerce, met with a wide variety of interested residents on April 20 to share ideas and comments on the draft of Orofino’s Activity Connection Plan (ACP) created by Chris Danley with Vitruvian Planning. The focus of this meeting was to present and gather information. 

“The Orofino City Council meets April 26 and it would be great to have all of our comments compiled by then so I can present to Council; We want the Council to go through the draft and identify any suggestions which are not feasible or do not mesh with the city’s future plans. We want to apply our efforts to those goals which are realistic to attain.

St. Germaine will also present to the School Board at their next meeting on May 16, to learn how the city might be able to incorporate the ACP there.

The draft of the 19-page plan held some really wonderful ideas, here are but a few of them:

One of the activity sites in the draft was Canoe Camp, noted for its historical and cultural assets as well as one of the sites available and in close proximity to residents along Hwy. 12.

Unfortunately, most residents must cross Hwy. 12 to access the park. Is there a way to provide a safe way to get there? Could a median or some type of signal be install to make the crossing less hazardous? This would be considered under infrastructure improvements and most likely, a costly one. But not all of the recommendations are as expensive.

Danley goes on to suggest other site improvements for Canoe Camp, such as installing aquatic bird interpretative panels at regular intervals along the trail with pneumatic bird sound stations; the addition of bike parking at the east end of the site.

“Clearly, we need to approach the National Park Service to show them they are being recognized in this plan. I believe once we have a final plan, there will be an opportunity to present this to them and engage them in a more formal manner.”

The plan has several recommendations for various street infrastructure to accommodate various desired trails and connect existing trails. The plan suggests narrowing the traffic lanes and removing on-street parking to allow room for bike paths throughout the community. “I don’t see these being accepted,” admits St. Germaine, “the lack of parking has long been an issue.”

But the best part of putting all our heads together is that a wide range of solutions are offered. There are some creative thinkers out there, and I especially liked the suggestion of constructing a multi-level parking garage!

The Chamber’s main focus will be on trails and pathways connecting existing trails to desired trails. Many are hoping to see a substantially longer trails or paths available, which can be accessed throughout our community.

In the attempt to create trails away from state highways, St. Germaine’s has offered to check into the possibility of making a proposal to Mike Williams, the owner of Camas Prairie and Bountiful grains Railroad to see if portions of the railroad right of way can be used for paths.

The Fitness and Activity group has reached out to Director Todd Hurt of State Hospital North. Hurt is presently reviewing the draft and is anticipated to convey his comments.

Mayor Ryan Smathers shared an item of interest which was recently discovered by the City which may help our cause. Idaho Statute 36-16-04 limits landowner liabilities for recreational trespass on private land. As long as there is no collection of fees, the property owner cannot be held liable for any injury or mishaps that might occur. This may help persuade private landowners to allow access for trails, etc. and open up more possibilities.

“At one time this area had a BMX bike track on private land, it would be interesting to find out why it closed down. Was it a liability issue?” St. Germaine’s next question was “Is there somewhere else we could have one? If there’s a demand for an activity, we should probably look to see how it could be facilitated.”

“Once I have the input I’ll relay the feedback to Danley for revisions,” said St. Germaine. “He hopes to have a final plan completed by June 30.” In the meantime, please email your ideas and comments to ecodev@clearwatercounty.org.

It will be up to the city to implement the plan. It doesn’t need to be completed overnight, but it provides an overview of goals we would like to put into action.

There are grants out there which may help with some of the funding that will be needed. Of course we have our amazing Specialist St. Germaine to work her magic with finding funds. We are so fortunate to have her expertise.

Just last week, she shared that the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) recently announced a grant which may be used to fund bike paths, sidewalks and other facilities. St. Germaine will explore the specifics of the grant to see if it could bring Orofino just a few steps closer to our destination.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Snake River Basin snowpack, inflows, post-wildfire conditions create potential flood risks

An April 1 near-average snowpack and current seasonal runoff forecasts throughout the Snake River Basin prompted regional water managers to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Walla Walla District rate the 2016 spring flood potential at normal to slightly above normal.

“Although most areas typically at-risk of seasonal flooding haven’t experienced any major issues yet this year, the amount of snowpack remaining in the mountains still poses the chance that even regulated flows may approach flood stage, especially if significant precipitation or unexpectedly warm temperatures occur,” said Steve Hall, Walla Walla District’s water-management program manager.

The Walla Walla District’s area of operations includes about 107,000 square miles, primarily encompassing the Snake River Basin, in parts of six states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. 

Cumulative precipitation amounts within the Walla Walla District varied from 117-174 percent of average for the lower-Snake River area, and from 98-139 percent of average for the middle- and upper-Snake River areas, from October 2016 to March 2016. The Clearwater River Basin is at 144 percent of normal.

Basin precipitation data was obtained from the National Weather Service (NWS) River Forecast Center in Portland, OR.

Unregulated streamflows for major basins in the Walla Walla District were 92 percent of average for the Snake River near Heise; 108 percent of average for the Boise River at Lucky Peak Dam, near Boise; 118 percent of average for the North Fork Clearwater River at Dworshak Dam, near Orofino; and 92 percent for Lower Granite Lake inflows on the lower-Snake River near Pomeroy, Washington.

Snowpack measurements reported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) on April 1, 2016, varied between 102-114 percent of average in the lower-Snake River area, 67-115 percent of average in the middle-Snake River area, and 96-110 percent of average in the upper-Snake River area. Individual sub-basin snowpack reports are available on the NRCS website http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/basin.html

The April 1 forecasts of spring runoff varied between 39-129 percent of average throughout the District. In general, the forecasts for most sub-basins within the Snake River Basin are just below average to just over average.

The April through July runoff volume forecast for the Snake River at Lower Granite Dam is 19.5 million acre-feet (AF) or 98 percent of average.

As of April 1 storage for major reservoirs within the Walla Walla District is normal and varies between 28-99 percent full. Most major reservoirs with flood-risk-management responsibility have adequate space available based on the current volume forecasts and ten-day weather forecasts. 

Dworshak Reservoir is currently transitioning to refill operations while releasing spring augmentation flows per NOAA’s Federal Columbia River System biological opinion to benefit juvenile salmon and steelhead outmigration. Spring snowmelt in the Clearwater sub-basin appears to be occurring earlier than normal. 

Additional reservoir storage summaries are available on the NRCS website http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/basin.html

“By the first of April, most of what we’re going to see in snowpack accumulation has peaked, making it somewhat easier to predict what affect precipitation and temperatures will have on reservoir inflows. Flood potential within the district is reevaluated daily throughout the month of April and May,” Hall explained. “Those living in areas where wildfires occurred last year should be especially alert to potential flooding conditions.”

Wildfires in Washington, Idaho and Oregon during 2015 resulted in large, exposed, burned areas, highly prone to flash flooding and erosion. Walla Walla District provided technical assistance to assess post-wildfire conditions and associated flood risks in Clearwater and Idaho counties, Idaho because of the elevated threat to the local communities.

For this spring, the greatest threat of flooding in these areas would be caused by rain-on-snow events in April and May. The district is monitoring conditions and coordinating with state and local jurisdictions in the event additional requests for assistance or flood support are needed.

Corps emergency management staff communicate with local officials to obtain on-site observations from communities in which flooding frequently occurs. 

The Corps works with states, counties and other public entities to provide necessary resources and information. The Corps does not have authority to provide disaster assistance directly to individuals. 

The first responsibility for protecting life, homes and property from flood damage rests with the individual. Local governments and agencies, such as flood control districts, may share in this responsibility, and together form a community's first line of defense in preventing flood damages.

Occasionally, however, local resources are not able to minimize the effects of flooding. The Corps’ flood assistance program is intended to supplement state and local governments and special-purpose districts when more help is needed.

Walla Walla District is prepared to assist states and municipalities with flood-management support. That assistance could include technical expertise, supplies and materials, equipment or contracts for emergency flood-fighting work. District flood support teams and technical experts are ready to deploy should local emergency managers request Corps assistance. 

State and local agencies needing disaster assistance from the Corps should contact the Walla Walla District Emergency Management Office at 509-527-7146, or 509-380-4538.

Individuals and business owners are encouraged to contact local emergency management agencies to ensure they understand how to prepare, respond and recover from a flood.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Take Me Fishing events starting soon

To help get kids excited about fishing, Idaho Fish and Game’s “Take Me Fishing” trailers will soon be making appearances at fishing holes across the state.

Wrapped with vibrant fish illustrations, the trailers are stocked with fishing information and basic fishing equipment that can be checked out for free on a first-come, first-served basis. Fish and Game staff will also be available to answer questions and help those new to the sport.

“All kids and their parents have to do is show up; we’ll get them geared up and on the water,” said Evin Oneale, Fish and Game conservation educator. 

People of any age, whether they are residents or non-residents, can fish without a license during the hours of the events if they register at the trailer. All other rules such as size limits and daily bag limits apply. 

Idaho children 13 years old and under can always fish for free. These events give any angler, youth or adult, the opportunity to try fishing without first buying a license or investing in equipment. 

For a list of scheduled events in your area, go to: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/fish/?getPage=80.

See the excitement the fish trailers generate in kids by watching this short video: https://idfg.idaho.gov/video/fishing-trailers.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Elk River Fishing Derby is May 7

The Elk River Fishing Derby will be held Saturday, May 7, at Elk Creek Reservoir near Elk River.

Sign-in and weigh-in are both at the Elk River Lodge. Sign-in is from 8 to 11 a.m. Weigh-in must be done by 4 p.m.

There is an entry fee of $10. First prize gets an 85% payback; second prize gets a 10% payback; and third prize gets a 5% payback. Fourth place on down will have a selection of prizes to choose from, until the prizes are gone. Prizes are awarded at 5 p.m.

The derby is a harvest tournament, and the target species is trout. All fish must be brought in whole in a zip lock bag. Each entrant may check in three fish to be weighed, then decide which fish they would like to be recorded. Each entrant’s second fish recorded will be used as a tiebreaker, if needed.

Live fish are not allowed to be used. Prizes will be awarded based on the weight of a single fish. You must be present to win.

All sport fishing regulations pertaining to the taking of fish apply to this tournament. Wild trout in any streams, wild cutthroat trout, white sturgeon, bull trout, and arctic grayling cannot be harvested during the tournament.