BLM clearing junipers on east bench prescribed burn

BLM employee Greg Mann lights one of the last piles of juniper and brush during a prescribed burn on the East Bench area of Pocatello.

POCATELLO — The city hopes to secure $240,000 in grant funds to thin juniper stands in municipally owned ravines above the East Bench, thereby protecting homes in the Highland neighborhood from the threat of fire.

The City Council recently authorized Pocatello to participate as a subcontractor in a broader Idaho Department of Lands grant application. IDL is seeking a larger pot of money from the U.S. Forest Service to finance several fuels-reduction projects throughout the state.

Pocatello’s proposed treatment area encompasses about 100 acres in the hills above Satterfield Drive, said Hannah Sanger, the city’s Science and Environment Division manager. Sanger said the city acquired several ravines in the hills above Satterfield Drive throughout the years, as developers have offered them as open space to offset their projects.

If the city gets the grant, Sanger said it will hire a contractor to hand thin, remove and chip juniper trees.

“In the past, the city has done some thinning up there. We worked with Three Rivers Resource, Conservation & Development Council and the Bureau of Land Management,” Sanger said. “This is an effort to come back and address some of the areas that weren’t touched before and evaluate some of the areas where treatments were done on city land.”

The grant would call for reducing the juniper stands to a density of no more than 20 junipers per acre in the interest of fuels reduction, Sanger said.

Although junipers are native trees, Sanger said the thinning would also result in benefits for habitat and wildlife species. She said juniper densities are too thick in the urban-wildland interface as a result of wildfire suppression and removing them should lead to a greater diversity of species in the landscape.

“Junipers suck up water and limit what else can grow there,” Sanger said.

Wood chips made from pulverized juniper branches may be used to cover non-motorized recreation paths through the gullies, connecting the Highland neighborhood to the surrounding BLM land, Sanger said.

Sanger said the ravines also serve an important purpose in providing conduits for stormwater flow and retention.