Pushing for more prescribed fires includes Snow Mountain Ranch | Outdoors and leisure

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A small crowd of Cowiche Canyon Conservancy members, volunteers and friends gathered near the Snow Mountain Ranch parking lot to watch 16 acres burn Saturday afternoon.

Yakima Deputy Fire Chief DJ Goldsmith oversaw the Conservancy’s first prescribed burn with the help of 45-50 firefighters from Yakima, Highland, Naches and the Nile. It was one of many prescribed fires planned this spring across the region in an attempt to use fire for good and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

“We’re starting to reintroduce it, going through that aspect and showing that we can have good fires like this,” Goldsmith said. “We live in an ecosystem of fire. We need fire.

He jumped at the training opportunity when the Conservancy looked for a way to deal with the ryegrass that had taken over since staff had sown seeds on the former alfalfa and hay fields of Snow Mountain Ranch. With no elk or other animals to graze, CCC project manager Megan Whiteside said tall grass posed a significant fire hazard and was becoming too dense for nesting birds, according to a survey conducted. before burning.

They teamed up with Washington Resource Conservation and Development Council executive director Ryan Anderson to determine that fire would be the best course of action. Goldsmith took ecological concerns into account when he devised a burn plan, which included using trails as firebreaks to avoid disturbing the ground.

“We worked with WDFW biologists to mitigate the impacts on (breeding birds) and they were kind of like, ‘earlier in March, the better,’” Whiteside said. “But we had such a cold spell in March and DJ was actually concerned about how much dead, dry fuel there was and he just wanted to put in a bit more green so that it would cool things down, slow them down, so we ended up by pushing it back to April.

Goldsmith said all of his crew had wildfire experience, but some were new to prescribed fire, so the burn provided an ideal setting to learn more about fire behavior in controlled conditions. When the wind suddenly changed and pushed the fire in a different direction, firefighters were prepared and easily contained it.

Building this local knowledge continues to be critical to building capacity across the state as a key part of combating worsening wildfire seasons. The Yakima area has witnessed the smoke damage and disruption these fires can cause with the Evans Canyon Fire in 2020 and the Schneider Springs Fire in 2021.

Goldsmith said he sent several firefighters to learn from past training exchanges near Roslyn hosted by the Washington Prescribed Fire Board. President Chris Martin said the organization plans to host an “on-call” version this spring, featuring burns on land owned by the Central Cascades Forest – managed by The Nature Conservancy – and the town of Roslyn. .

Matt Eberlein, manager of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fires, said he lost about seven people out of what is expected to be a staff of 16 for the area, but they still hope to carry out burns this spring. They targeted several areas identified in past seasons, including 120 acres in Cougar Canyon and 90 acres in the Oak Creek watershed in the Oak Creek Wildlife Preserve west of Naches.

“It looked like things opened up earlier this year,” Eberlein said. “In mid-March there was quite a bit of snow there and we had good rain and it really melted things all over eastern Washington.”

He expects the prescribed fire season to last until around mid-June and said private contractors should be able to offer help. Oak Creek is the area’s second priority after 500 acres in the Colockum Wildlife Area, 20 miles southeast of Wenatchee.

If possible, crews can also burn 320 acres of the LT Murray Wildlife Area about 15 miles west of Ellensburg. Eberlein said the prescribed fires will not cause any trail or road closures and any smoke for residents or nearby towns, such as Naches, should be minimal.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Ryan Rodruck said the agency’s newly created prescribed fire program, launched in 2021, plans to burn the Taneum State Forest around Elk Heights. Martin is encouraged by the progress made at MNR since Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz took over in January 2017.

“I think the program was delayed for at least a year by Covid,” Martin said. “So to come into an agency that basically had a burn ban for over 15 years…when you step back and realize the hiring challenges, and Covid, all that stuff, I think that’s a pretty impressive launch. “

The US Forest Service also plans to implement burns this spring in four different units west of Naches. Just like the WDFW, some of these plans carry over from last year and could be rolled over to next fall if necessary.

Goldsmith said it is still sometimes difficult to convince people of the benefits of fire and Martin acknowledged the difficulties of hiring staff for certain positions. He hopes this will improve soon and stressed the importance of an ‘all hands, all land’ approach as different groups work towards the same goal of putting more fire on the landscape to minimize its devastating effects in the hot, dry summers of eastern Washington.

Contact Luke Thompson at [email protected]

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