By Ann McCreary
Plans for three prescribed burns in the Methow Valley, announced recently by the U.S. Forest Service, have been changed to allow staff in the Methow Valley Ranger District to focus on a large fuels-reduction project near Mazama that was chosen for funding this week.
“We just got word that we can expect several hundred thousand dollars to do the Lost Driveway Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project,” Shannon O’Brien, public information officer, said last week.
The project encompasses about 3,000 acres in the Mazama area, including about 235 acres in roadless areas adjacent to private property. The project is designed to reduce fuels and the risk of wildfire moving between national forest lands and private lands.
The project location is in the upper Methow Valley from near Ballard Campground in the Harts Pass area, going down valley to the Lost River area, the base of Goat Wall, Driveway Butte, Sandy Butte, and east to the vicinity of Goat Creek and Lucky Jim Bluff, O’Brien said.
It will take place in the Methow River drainage near Robinson Creek, Lost River, Early Winters Creek, Little Boulder Creek and Goat Creek drainages.
Work on the project — including thinning, pruning, hand piling, burning hand piles, underburning, firewood collection and hand fireline construction — could begin this fall, O’Brien said.
Decades of fire suppression in the project area have resulted in dense forest stands and increased surface fuel accumulation, according to decision memo on the project signed last December by District Ranger Mike Liu. The forests in the project area have also experienced mortality due to insects and disease.
“These conditions create a higher likelihood of uncharacteristically severe wildfire behavior and effects, increasing the risk to private lands, timbered stands, and wildlife habitat, especially large trees used by wildlife including Northern Spotted Owls,” Liu wrote in his decision.
Recent wildfire activity, including last year’s Carlton Complex Fire, “demonstrated the capability of wildfires to move rapidly down-drainage from National Forest lands, threatening private land and improvements in the project area,” Liu said.
In addition to reducing the risk of fire moving from federal to private land, the project aims to improve forest health and wildlife habitat, and increase resilience to future disturbances.
Firewood gathering will be allowed in units within late successional reserves to reduce downed debris between 4-9 inches in diameter created by thinning during the project, according to the decision memo.
The project will not affect the status of roads in the area, and no commercial harvest will occur in connection with the project, the memo said.
Because preparation and developing contracts for the project will take a considerable amount of time, planned burns previously announced for Eightmile Creek, Cub Creek and Wolf Creek in the Methow Ranger District will not occur this season, O’Brien said.
The only planned burning in the Methow District this spring will take place on about 35 acres in the Fawn Creek area near the Edelweiss residential area in Mazama. That will take place some time after mid-April, O’Brien said.