Wheat fields burnt in the Substation Fire — 79,121 acres in Wasco and Sherman County — are now at risk of both wind and water erosion, according to soil and water conservationists with the United States Department of Agriculture personnel in The Dalles.
“Both wind and water can be a problem,” said Clinton Whitten, who works on soil issues with farmers in both counties.
Wind erosion can play a role until it rains, but Whitten is hopeful the impacts will be minimal.
“A lot of the dust you see blowing now is because of the ash of the fire, and all the traffic on the fields,” he said.
When a vehicle is driven on a field, it breaks up the top layer and leads to dust.
The lands most in danger from wind erosion are those with a high sand content, located mostly in the north part of the counties, and those lands did not burn, he explained.
Frank Cochran, district conservationist, said farmers will be planting cover crops prior to the first rains of fall, which when sprouted will reduce water erosion this winter.
The USDA and other agencies will be helping with technical and financial assistance in erosion reduction, Cochran added.
“There is already assistance available,” Cochran said, with the USDA program, called EQUIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program).
The EQUIP program is in place, with funds on hand for restoration following this summer’s Boxcar fire and Junction fires in Wasco County near Maupin, and the Jack Knife Fire in Sherman county, which burned along the John Day River northeast of Kent.
All three fires were lightning caused and burned about 100,000 acres of rangeland at the end of June.
Some of that funding will be available for those impacted by the Substation Fire, Cochran said.
“We may be able to get more money as well. We will request as much as we can,” he added.
The deadline for farmers to apply for the current restoration program is Aug. 1.
Technical assistance and a number of possible program options will be considered. Many of them involved funding matches and cost sharing, added Whitten. For example, “it helps fund part of the (cover crop) planting,” he said, providing technical assistance and possibly seed.
Plans are also underway for a meeting at the end of July that will bring together growers, land owners and agencies, to see what else can be done,” Whitten said.
Whitten is hopeful that wind erosion will be minimal. Prior to fall rains, there isn’t a lot that can be done to curb wind erosion, he said. “The wind could potentially be an issue, but there just aren’t many feasible option” to control it, he explained.