The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is preparing for prescribed burning on 178 acres of dry ponderosa forest habitat in the Ramsey Creek area in the Chewuch drainage, where the agency selectively thinned small trees two years ago. The prescribed fire will eliminate flammable fuels like needles and small branches, WDFW Prescribed Fire Program Manager Matt Eberlein said.
WDFW hopes to start its burning on Monday (Oct. 11) if conditions line up. They anticipate moisture in the weather after that, which helps with mop-up and typically stimulates growth of grasses and shrubs within a week, Eberlein said.
Cutting small growth allows remaining vegetation to thrive and reduces the risk of wildfire. The low-intensity fire used in a prescribed burn stimulates plants like aspen and bitterbrush that need fire.
WDFW initially planned prescribed burns on a total of 248 acres on three units, but about 70 of those acres burned in the Cub Creek 2 Fire this summer and therefore won’t be part of this burn, Eberlein said.
Firefighters took advantage of the thinned area and put in a bulldozer line. Although the forest burned, it didn’t burn as severely as it would have had it not been thinned, Eberlein said.
Eberlein led a tour of the treatment areas last week. He was accompanied by Kathryn Heim, program coordinator for Fire Adapted Methow Valley (FAMV). FAMV is helping educate the public about WDFW’s aims and to prepare them for the potential for smoke.
“This is not an easy time to contemplate more fire in the valley, even prescribed fire to reduce future wildfire risks to habitat, communities, and the landscape. FAMV and WDFW both recognize that conducting a prescribed burn this fall could raise questions and concerns,” FAMV said in a press release.
Unfortunately, the Methow experienced devastating wildfires this summer, Eberlein said. This project had already been planned and was scheduled to have been completed by now, he said.
WDFW will get a spot forecast for the area to determine whether conditions are appropriate for burning. Ultimately, the state Department of Ecology must give the go-ahead based on air quality.
Burning in the fall, when fuels are drier, reduces the amount of smoke, Eberlein said. By DNR rules, smoke must clear by noon of the following day.
“Ramsey Creek’s dry ponderosa forests and its inhabitants need frequent, low-intensity and low-heat fire to thin out dense stands of small ponderosa pines that are competing for limited water, nutrients, and sunlight, and to clear the ground accumulation to allow understory vegetation to grow. A prescribed burn mimics natural historical fire cycles in ecosystems like the one in the Ramsey Creek units. Within a short time after a prescribed burn, vegetation returns, and wildlife moves in to browse on the newly restored forage,” FAMV said.
The goal for the Ramsey Creek units is to leave 10 to 20% of the smallest fuels, like pine needles, and 15 to 20% of 3-inch branches and twigs. They will leave snags and other key habitat.
Using prescribed fire in thinned areas adjacent to the forest that burned in the Cub Creek Fire will provide a good opportunity to compare the impacts on the forest and habitat, Heim said.
People can expect to see smoke from the Chewuch area for a week or two. The burn will be monitored until the unit is completely mopped up.