By Ann McCreary
Field studies to assess damage from recent wildfires on state and private lands in Okanogan County have been completed, and a report on potential erosion threats is expected early next month.
A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team began work on Sept. 11 and spent four days on the ground evaluating burn severity and damage caused by the Twisp River Fire, Okanogan Complex, Tunk Block and North Star fires.
The multi-agency team, led by the Okanogan Conservation District, will use the field studies along with satellite imagery and other tools to evaluate threats to life and property. The report will also recommend ways to reduce risk and restore the landscape.
As Methow Valley residents learned last summer in the wake of the Carlton Complex Fire, wildfires significantly increase the risk of flooding, erosion and debris flow. The aftermath of wildfire can also harm water quality, increase the spread of invasive plants, and create hazards from falling trees and rocks.
“We are cautiously optimistic about regeneration occurring naturally on the landscape, especially on rangeland,” said Leslie Michael, a soil scientist with the Conservation District. “However, some areas will need more intervention.”
The 12 members of the BAER team include soil scientists, hydrologists, archeologists, engineers, foresters, fish biologists, range specialists and GIS technicians.
Private landowners are encouraged to contact the Conservation District to fill out a wildfire intake form and get on a list for a free site assessment to evaluate their recovery options and potential erosion or flash flood risks. The district can be contacted at (509) 422-0855 or www.okanogancd.org/fires.
A similar interagency study team has been assembled by the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to conduct assessments of national forest lands burned in central Washington.
The assessment will include federal lands burned in the Twisp River and Black Canyon fires in the Methow Valley, as well as the First Creek and Wolverine fires in the Chelan area and the Lime Belt fire west of Omak.
Not all national forest land can be treated after a fire. Time, money and terrain can limit repair efforts, said Carly Reed, public information officer with the Chelan Ranger District. Treatment of slopes greater than 40 percent is often ineffective, she said.
Treatments will focus on burn areas classified as high severity and on areas that pose an immediate threat to the public and/or property on national forest lands.