Spring in the Okanogan brings promising new prescribed fire program – Conservation Northwest

Northwest Conservation / April 06, 2022 / Forest field program, forestry, forest fires

New Department of Natural Resources plan will improve forest health and resistance to wildfires

By Michael Liu, Okanogan Forest Manager

Spring can mean many different things to people. The return of songbirds, the flowering of arrow leaves, longer days and the opening of Highway 20 in the North Waterfalls.

However, other definition of spring is an early or blooming stage of development. This is the case of the burn directed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). While their Forest Resilience Division progressing with incremental approaches to address climate change, forest health, and catastrophic wildfires, it took them a while to begin using prescribed burning as a management tool.

photo of fire crews performing a prescribed burn
A fire crew performs a prescribed burn in Okanogan County.

As a retired ranger, I get it. Implementing a prescribed burn in the landscape is not as easy as it seems. Applying fire to the right landscapes, at the right intensity and at the right time requires analysis and planning. Training is also needed to ensure that qualified personnel are present, that the weather is favorable for the dispersal of smoke, and that adequate emergency resources are available in the event of the unexpected. Add to that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and turbulent fire seasons and it’s no wonder it’s been a while.

Finally, the wait is over. In a recent press release, DNR have announced their intention to launch their prescribed burning program with a transboundary burn in Okanogan County.

The benefits of using prescribed burning were known to early people who had used fire as a management tool for generations. When applied correctly, it can improve forest health and resistance to wildfires by removing fuel buildup on the forest floor, increasing the height of the crowns of overbearing trees, and killing small, fire-tolerant trees. shadow that may have developed in the absence of fire. This means that wildfires will behave more characteristically burning with lower intensity in the drier forests of eastern Washington. In addition, wildlife foraging conditions will be improved and habitat for species such as the white-headed woodpecker will be improved.

By partnering with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), MNR will be able to leverage the expertise of WDFW wildlife managers and BLM prescribed fire managers. Nice work DNR! The benefits will far outweigh any smoke in the air. It is indeed spring in the Okanogan and spring for the prescribed fire program within MNR.

photo of blooming arrowhead balsamroot flowers
Spring in the Okanogan brings the flowering of the arrowhead balsamroot.

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