As of Aug. 15, the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) Pacific Northwest Region said the Bootleg Fire in Klamath and Lake counties was 100 percent contained. The fire, sparked by lightning on July 6, burned approximately 413,717 acres and destroyed 161 residences and 247 other structures.
Communities in the fire zone are evaluating the effects of the fire as local landowners and ranchers are allowed back onto their properties and grazing permits. Some emergency closures remain in effect as cleanup efforts continue, and for ranchers, the damage assessment to grazing permits won’t likely occur until spring.
Ria Suarez, rangeland management specialist on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, told the Klamath Falls Herald and News, “It is definitely a kind of wait-and-see situation right now.”
Suarez said she couldn’t make any promises to grazing permit holders, and while some fared better than others, evaluation post-Bootleg Fire will have to commence on a case-by-case basis.
“It really depends on how hot it burned,” Suarez said. “If it scorched the top layer of soil really badly, it might take a year or two [for grasses to return]. That would include having to do reseeding. If it burned through really nicely, and it didn’t get really hot, we could see possible use next year.”
USFS’ Burned Area Emergency Response (BEAR) team is conducting surveys of roads, trees and other infrastructure such as cattle guards to identify hazards and needed repairs. BEAR teams have also begun to survey soils for burn severity, culverts and irrigation diversions for potential storm runoff and flooding.
Suarez said they would try to get permit holders onto their land as soon as possible.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to figure something out to mitigate the loss,” Suarez said. “We’ll know if we can turn out in spring because it all depends on Mother Nature and how much snow and rain we have.”
Tom Basabe, president of Simplot’s Livestock and Land Group, told WLJ they lost a lot of their grazing permits, and it will be up to USFS to decide when they are allowed back onto their permits.
“Maybe we get a big winter, and they [USFS] let us go back on,” said Basabe. “But they probably won’t—we probably have to stay off for at least a year. So that puts me and my neighbors into the situation of having to figure out where the hell we’re going to go with these cows and if you can go to our normal forest permits.”
The Bootleg Fire started approximately 15 miles northwest of Beatty, OR, in the vicinity of Simplot’s ZX Ranch. The Paisley-based ZX Ranch covers 73,000 acres of land and permits grazing livestock on another 1.3 million acres of USFS, Bureau of Land Management and private land.
Basabe indicated that he had not heard from his neighbors since the fire about livestock losses, but Basabe said they were “fortunate” and lost “under 100” animals, but they may find more.
The biggest issue for Simplot and ranchers in the area is now the drought. Basabe said they had moved all their animals off the grazing permit due to not only the fire, but creeks that have run dry. As a result, ZX Ranch is in the process of early weaning and evaluating for any health effects from the smoke.
Kenny Say, sales manager at the Klamath Livestock Auction, told the Klamath Falls Herald and News ranchers are either getting out or selling off a large portion of their herds due to the increase in hay prices from the drought and the Bootleg Fire.
“This drought has everybody by the throat,” Basabe said. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor