helicopter mulch

A Bureau of Land Management contractor spreads mulch throughout a burn area on Chinese Peak near south Pocatello.

POCATELLO — A Bureau of Land Management contractor has been using a helicopter to spread mulch throughout a steep slope of Chinese Peak that was scorched by a wildfire last summer.

The BLM contractor started work on Jan. 6 and made daily flights through Jan. 11, when an agency official predicted the pilot would put in one more day of work on the rehabilitation project.

The orange-and-black K-MAX helicopter has drawn a lot of attention, working along busy Fifth Avenue in south Pocatello, across from the Idaho Transportation Department headquarters.

BLM wildlife biologist David Price said the helicopter is mulching 128 acres of steep terrain that burned intensely and posed a significant erosion risk. Over the course of the contract, Price said the helicopter will move more than 1 million pounds of mulch. He explained the helicopter avoids the need to bring in heavy ground equipment, which would be difficult to use on steep terrain and could disturb the soil.

The Chinese Peak Fire, which was started last July by a man working on his car, burned nearly 1,600 acres. Price said the BLM also used a helicopter about two months ago to seed the entire burn area. He said the agency used two different seed blends — one a sagebrush and grass mix and the other was heavy on forbs.

Price explained the fire burned prime winter range for mule deer.

According to the BLM, last summer's fire overlapped a previous wildfire from 2011.

"Applying this splintered wood product to steep areas helped those areas recover in 2011, and this new application will likewise slow soil movement with future moisture," the BLM said in a Facebook post about the restoration project.