The Sawtooth National Forest adjoins the Wood River Valley, a watershed in south-central Idaho where the communities of Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Hailey are located. The gorgeous public lands surrounding the Wood River Valley are one of the region’s most important assets, driving much of the area’s economy.
These lands provide water for agriculture, habitat for abundant wildlife, and wide-ranging summer and winter outdoor recreation opportunities. Destination downhill skiing, an extensive groomed Nordic skiing trail system, legendary single-track trails, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails make this a mecca for people who appreciate spending time adventuring in nature.
Due to this region’s dependence on public lands, it is particularly susceptible to disruptions that occur from natural events like major wildfires and floods. Even beyond the immediate threats to life and property, wildfires and flooding can impact tourism, outdoor activities, agriculture, and wildlife habitat, and result in direct and indirect long-term social and economic losses for these rural communities.
While wildfire is a necessary part of many forests and grasslands, including the Douglas-fir and sage brush ecosystems that make up much of the Sawtooth, climate change and resulting hotter and drier conditions have led to uncharacteristically intense fires. Like other parts of the west, the Sawtooth has experienced a number of these major fires in recent years, including the 2018 Sharps Fire, which impacted almost 65,000 acres in the Pioneer Mountains east of the Wood River Valley.
When fires are severe, restoration actions can help the landscape regenerate more quickly, protecting water quality, restoring wildlife habitat and helping prevent after-effects such as flooding and debris flows. Along with giving a boost to nature, it can also hasten recovery for the surrounding communities. Through this REI-Coop Mastercard supported project, we will revegetate critical areas within the Sharps Fire footprint, to prevent erosion and flood events. Youth crews will assist with these efforts.
We will also implement prescriptive treatments to prevent establishment of invasive weed species. Additionally, in partnership with the Forest Service and local partners, we will train volunteers and coordinate efforts with citizen science groups (including local high school students) to carry out a multi-year monitoring program. This will provide an opportunity to both keep abreast of recovery efforts and foster a greater public understanding of post-fire restoration.