… the largest active wildfire in the continental U.S. having burned more than 131,000 acres... Those who have cattle in the Moose Creek area have not been allowed to try to get their cattle out because of risk to human life...



Idaho: Some ranchers can’t access cattle in Moose fire


By Heather Smith Thomas for Tri-State Livestock News (SD)

Sep 16, 2022


The Moose Fire began Sunday, July 17 five miles southwest of North Fork on the Salmon River, and is believed to be human-caused. As of mid-September it was the largest active wildfire in the continental U.S. having burned more than 131,000 acres on the west side of the river. Many people living along the river and tributaries have been evacuated.


At one time there were more than 1,400 firefighters—with crews from many states—trying to control the fire and keep it from jumping the river and the highway, and hoping to halt it before it got to the watershed above town. Helicopter crews were dipping water from the river to dump on the fire, but some days the smoke was too thick, impairing visibility for flying. Early on, a tragic incident claimed the lives of two pilots when their helicopter crashed into the river.


With hot days, no rain, and high winds, the fire continues to grow. It is not expected to be controlled until end of October, when Mother Nature may put it out with possible rain/snow.


Property owners along the river, and ranchers who run cattle on U.S. Forest Service permits in those mountains have been severely impacted. Those who have cattle in the Moose Creek area have not been allowed to try to get their cattle out because of risk to human life, but some cattle have drifted out on their own.


Jay Smith, a rancher on Carmen Creek and past president of Idaho Cattlemen’s Association, grazes cattle in that area. “I have a permit there, and some private property; we have six acres and a cabin on Moose Creek. Wind blew fire toward our cabin the very first day. It split before it got there and went around the cabin, but after the big blow-up on September 7 (with strong winds that grew the fire another 1,500 acres that day), we haven’t been back, so we’re not sure if it’s still there,” he says.


That day, a plume of smoke rose more than 50,000 feet and thick smoke engulfed the Salmon and Lemhi River valleys before nightfall—with flames visible on the horizon above town as the fire crested the ridge only 3 miles away. Many people took photos that night–of flames coming over the ridge. In days that followed, fire crept over the ridge toward the Fairgrounds—where one of the fire camps is located–and ranches along the river east of town. Many of those people had to evacuate.


“If I were to comment about the Forest Service and Incident Management teams on this fire, the point I’d make is inconsistency. Our range permit normally runs until October 10th and they ended our permit August 10th but won’t let us bring our cattle home. The Incident Command, another branch of the same Agency, told us the fire comes first and with the roads closed we can’t go up there,” says Smith.


Cherie McFarland, who is part of a large family ranching operation, says that when the fire first started in that area, they got their horses out, but haven’t been up there since. “We don’t know where our cows are. We’ve been told we’ll be fined $5,000 if we go up in there so we’ve just stayed away. When some of the cows wander down, we put them in a field along the river, where we have 40 acres, and truck them home. We’ve been trucking them home a few at a time,” she says.


“Cattle naturally head for the meadows and are pretty good at surviving, but if they get trapped, they can’t get out,” Cherie says. A few weeks ago the fire wasn’t expanding as quickly and people had hopes it might be contained; some ranchers thought it might be safe to go find their cattle, but the officials would not allow it, and then the fire blew up again.


“Range pasture is not a situation where you can get by with zero management,” says Smith. “When we can’t take care of cattle, we don’t know whether they have feed or water. Are they in harm’s way? Are half of them dead? This is very frustrating.”


At the beginning of the fire, ranchers were told to stage their cattle in Moose Meadow because it was the safest spot...


Ranchers share frustration over forest management ...