Some restoration may be delayed
Though the Methow’s skies are still smoky, the perimeters of the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek fires are at least halfway secured and crews are already working toward cleaning up firelines, installing erosion control efforts and other fire suppression repair projects.
“Restoration is a long-term project while suppression repair is fixing the immediate damage — and I don’t even want to call it damage because it’s what is needed to be done — repair is fixing what was done in order to suppress the fire quickly,” said Eireann Pederson, silviculturist for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest’s Methow Valley Ranger District.
“We will work to repair handlines and dozer lines by planting grass seed, installing water bars, pulling berms amongst other things, then we’ll talk about restoration. Restoration is inside the black, not just the suppression lines,” she said.
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff are patrolling controlled portions of fireline from Mazama to Virginia Ridge and along the southern portions of the Cub Creek Fire to monitor the lines, mop up areas and create an inventory of areas at risk for erosion and other issues, said Tim Vugteveen of the DNR’s Northeast Region, the agency representative for the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek fires at an Aug. 10 virtual community meeting.
“For DNR on DNR property, jurisdiction on some of the private property, a lot of the intensity of the burn was less, particularly on the Cedar fire because as the fire backed down off the hill,” he said. “There will be a little less risk of erosion and that sort of thing.”
U.S. Forest Service crews are also planning their repair efforts through a Burned Area Emergency Response team, or BAER.
“BAER provides information, a quick assessment, that we (Forest staff) can use to look at restoration opportunities,” Pederson said in a news release. “Do we need to fix culverts? Block this road for a period of time to allow recovery of the vegetation? It’s a quick source of immediate information to take into consideration when we start talking about restoration.”
But for both the DNR and Forest Service, work may get put on hold as staff get pulled away to new blazes around the state.
Methow Valley District Ranger Chris Furr said during a virtual meeting on Aug. 9 that forest service crews are being asked to be “very judicious” about the amount of fire suppression repair work this year, and that their work may look different this year than in past fire seasons.
“The reason for that is there’s so much of a need for resources outside of this fire,” he said. “We’re going to do what we have to do, what is very practical to do as we’re finishing up suppression, then we’re going to be looking at the need to release those resources and get them to other fires that may not have those critical resources that they need right now.”
If crews get pulled off to work on other fires, repair work will likely be completed in fall or next spring, he said.
At another meeting this Monday (Aug. 16), he said the district is putting together a BAER assessment team in the next week that will spend time identifying threats to property and safety from fire damage and prioritizing work.
“That is about a two week process… and then we’ll start work to implement whatever solutions are in the coming weeks after that,” he said. “It could be as simple of some seeding, it could be putting culverts where we expect runoff to really increase on a road, it could be gating areas where we expect big impacts.”
The DNR also completes suppression repair work on lands it owns and manages as well as private land. However, the DNR does work on a more limited scope on suppression repair.
“Generally on our jurisdiction we keep it pretty simple in terms of what we do following our suppression activities,” Vugteveen said.
For example, DNR crews can install water bars in areas where erosion is a concern, and will repair fences damaged during construction of a fire line.
One of the big concern after a large fire is water coming down a dozer line, causing increased erosion.
“As water starts accumulating, we’ll build a little berm, kind of at an angle across that dozer line, to kick the water out … So it doesn’t have a chance to accumulate either velocity or quantity,” Vugteveen said. “We’re trying to get that water back to where it’s vegetated.”
Like the Forest Service, Vugteveen said some work might be delayed depending on demand for staff at other fires.
“Obviously their priority right now is they’re available for any new fires that might start,” he said. “If we do need equipment like a bulldozer to come in and do work… that might be this fall. But most of the hand work I anticipate to get done yet this summer.”
For landowners whose properties have been affected by wildfire, or who want to make their private forestland more resilient, can get help and advice from the DNR’s Forest Health assistance program for small forest landowners.
The program can also provide financial help.
“They’ll provide assistance as far as management plans or what vegetation or grass seed landowners should consider if they’re going to replant,” Vugteveen said. “Our landowner assistance foresters are a great resources.”
For more information on the DNR’s Forest Health Assistance program, go to www.dnr.wa.gov/cost-share.
To request a consultation in Northeast Washington, including Okanogan County, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Landowners with less than 5,000 forested acres in Washington are eligible.
The BAER teams involve hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, biologists and more professionals who work to stabilize burned areas on an emergency basis.
“In most cases, only a portion of the burned area is actually treated. Severely burned areas, very steep slopes, places where water runoff will be excessive, fragile slopes above roads, trails, campgrounds, and other valuable facilities are focus areas,” according to the Forest Service. “The treatments must be installed as soon as possible, generally before the next damaging storm. Time is critical if treatments are to be effective.”
Possible techniques include reseeding areas with quick growing species, stabilizing areas with mulch made of straw or chipped wood, installing erosion control such as water bars, or other projects.
For the Forest Service, the next step is to look at what more in-depth rehabilitation efforts. That could include replanting forest areas or grassland, repairing gullies caused by post-fire floods, repairing or replacing burned bridges, roads or buildings or treating noxious weed infestations.
“I have already been assessing areas for reforestation work and what long-term vegetation projects look like, so technically the restoration discussion has started,” Pederson said in a news release. “We have also started discussions with our local Interdisciplinary Team to briefly start the conversation about how do we move forward and what that may look like for resources such as our campgrounds, roads, danger tree assessments, and reforestation efforts.”
According to the Forest Service, no special funding is provided for long-term rehabilitation after a fire, and BAER expenses typically amount to less than 5% percent of the cost of fire suppression.
“I think the last thing I’d say is to ask for some patience,” Furr said on Aug. 9. “We have several areas of really high severity fire over the two fire areas and some areas where we’re going to have all standing dead trees along our roads and trail systems.”
Firefighters are focusing on mitigating hazards to their own safety, he said.
“There’s still going to be a lot of road hazards that we’re going to have to deal with in the long term. It’s going to take some time to get these areas reopened and to make them safe for reentry,” Furr said. “That’s an ongoing conversation and will be for the rest of the season.”