U.S. Forest Service to reduce catastrophic wildfire risk in Yakima & Kittitas counties
The U.S. Forest Service is investing in additional prescribed fires and tree thinning projects in Yakima and Kittitas counties as part of a 10-year strategic plan to reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire.
“In the first couple of years, the increase is going to be up to 25 to 30% more than we’re doing right now,” aid Kari Grover-Wier, acting chief of staff with Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “In successive years, we hope for it to be double what we’re doing right now.”
The 10-Year Wildlife Crisis Strategy aims to increase fuel reduction efforts in 10 landscapes across the country that struggle with increasing fire risk in their communities.
“We can’t stop wildfire from coming; wildfire is a natural part of our ecosystem,” Grover-Wier said. “But what we can do to live with wildfire is create these resilient landscapes.”
Grover-Wier said they can reduce the severity of future wildfires through fuel reduction — clearing out excess trees, brush and other forest debris from certain areas to take away fuel from the fire.
Part of implementing the greater plan is the Central Washington Initiative, which is aimed at reducing fuels on 2.45 million acres of federal, state, tribal and other lands in Chelan, Okanogan, Yakima and Kittitas counties.
“We know there’s always going to be fire, so fuel reduction work helps to allow these landscapes to accept fire more resiliently and allows firefighters to still be able to protect communities,” Grover-Wier said.
Grover-Wier said Yakima and Kittitas counties were included in the initiative due to the presence of firesheds — places where wildfire risk is high and could cause serious damage to nearby communities.
Six firesheds are included in the Central Washington Initiative landscape, including the Cle Elum fireshed in Kittitas County and the American River fireshed, which is in both Yakima and Kittitas counties.
“Threats from wildfires, evacuations and smoke impacts have become part of life for these communities and that comes at a high cost to community and forest health, as well as to local economies,” the initiative said.
That particular area of Eastern Washington has seen increasingly destructive wildfires over the past five years. Last year, the Schneider Springs Fire alone burned more than 107,ooo acres of land northwest of Naches in Yakima County.
In 2020, the Evans Canyon Fire burned about 75,800 acres north of Naches in Yakima County. And in Kittitas County, just three wildfires in 2017 and 2018 — the Boylston Fire, Norse Peak Fire and Jolly Mountain Fire — burned a combined 160,000 acres.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is set to receive $24.6 million to treat about 24,000 acres of land in Central Washington this year, courtesy of the recently-passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.
Over the next three fiscal years, they’re expecting a total allotment of $102.6 million to treat 124,000 acres, from Winthrop in the north to Naches in the south.
“The first things that are going to be planned are allocating some of this money to contract small tree thinning,” Grover-Wier said. “In Yakima County, we do have thinning in the Little Crow area planned.”
Grover-Wier said there will also be prescribed burns happening later in the fall and in spring 2023 as part of the initiative.
Central Washington Initiative partners and participants include:
- Washington Department of Natural Resources
- Washington Department of Fish and
- North Central Washington Forest Health
- Tapash Collaborative
- Blue Forest Conservation
- Okanogan County
- Yakima County
- Kittitas County
- Chelan County
- The Nature Conservancy,
- The Wilderness Society
- American Forest Resource Council
- Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation
- Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
The Washington State Department of Natural resources is also working on its prescribed fire program and has a Twitter account and email alert system to keep people updated on prescribed burns in their area.
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