SHERIDAN — When wildfires spread through the area, they create lasting consequences, particularly in soil and water system damages. While Sheridan has not suffered wildfires of great degree in some time, the impact of small fires and even camping and recreational use impact the water systems coming from the mountain to the city of Sheridan and Sheridan County.
Because of this, the Wyoming Water Development Commission is working its way through a fairly new way of studying the land and composing mitigation plans for water systems, which included conducting a public meeting Thursday at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library.
The commission has held a few public meetings this year, bringing stakeholders together to discuss and explain the unique approach taken for studying the area. The project focuses on the creation of a watershed management plan, outlining specific forest management treatments that will prevent or minimize impacts to municipal supply reservoirs and infrastructure for the city of Sheridan.
Cory Foreman, a consultant with the Henningson Engineering Company out of Omaha, Nebraska, explained the elements of the study relating to fire mitigation. Jodee Pring, water planning coordinator from the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, explained where compiled data was sourced and explained what preliminary results for Sheridan County will show once compiled.
The form of study itself is fairly new and has been primarily used in research and mitigation plans in Colorado and New Mexico, locations that have seen drastic wildfires in recent history. In studies around those areas, the entities involved modeled the Burned Area Emergency Response, which is designed to address emergency situations through key goals of protecting life, property and critical natural and cultural resources, according to the U.S. Forest Service website.
Rather than simply surveying the damage a wildfire leaves an area, firefighters responding to those emergencies can be preventative in putting out the fire with minimal damage to the area, soils, water paths and downstream entities.
BAER teams are staffed by hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, biologists, vegetation specialists, archaeologists and others who rapidly evaluate the burned area and prescribe emergency stabilization treatments, the U.S. Forest Service website explains.
For the study in the Bighorn National Forest and Sheridan area, Pring cited using data from sources including the U.S. Forest Service and specifically a Bighorn National Forest soil survey; Wyoming Game and Fish Department; Wyoming Natural Resources Conservation Service; and precipitation information from a Wyoming Probable Maximum Precipitation study similar to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The graphic elements showed overlays of each element of the study. Through those overlays, researchers eliminate non-problem areas, and they designated study areas where a lot of negative aftermath of a wildfire was displayed.
“We went through and removed the areas we know didn’t make sense, and then we start kind of having various hot spots, these areas of concern,” Pring said. “Areas where if the fire comes through this watershed, given the fire characteristics and the watershed characteristics, are likely to produce the most sediment.”
Areas of mitigation focus have not been finalized yet but will be shared with the public once compiled and designated.