Methow Ranger District included in USFS plan
Several “shovel-ready” forest projects in the Methow Valley Ranger District will get additional federal funding to accelerate treatments starting this year, part of a 10-year plan by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce the risk of wildfire.
This year, 24,000 acres in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will be treated with thinning and prescribed burning, using $24.6 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, according to Okanogan-Wenatchee Public Affairs Officer Victoria Wilkins. The Forest Service plans to treat a total of 124,000 acres through 2024, about 35,000 acres per year. Total funding is $102.6 million.
The funding will be used for work on the ground and staffing for projects already approved, including the Mission Restoration Project. It will support environmental review for the Twisp Restoration Project, which is in the final planning stages. The Methow Valley Ranger District hopes for a signed decision on the Twisp Restoration Project this summer, so these funds could be put toward forest work on that project this year.
“The funding will enable us to accelerate the rate of implementation for projects such as Twisp Restoration and Mission by paying for components of projects that weren’t yet funded,” Wilkins said.
For initiatives such as the Midnight Restoration Project and a new planning area called the Upper Methow, which are in the early stages, the funds will support research and planning. Ultimately, the USFS anticipates using the money for work in the forest. “We are still working through specific locations and types of projects to be funded within these larger project footprints,” Wilkins said.
Money will also go to the South Summit II project, where thinning is already underway.
Part of broader plan
The projects are part of the Central Washington Initiative, which encompasses 2.45 million acres of federal, state, tribal and other lands from Winthrop to the Yakima area. It’s one of 10 landscapes in eight states the Forest Service selected for work this year after reviewing 29 candidates.
The Forest Service looked for projects that are ready for implementation, that bring investment to underserved areas, and that have been developed collaboratively with their communities, the agency said.
Six of the 10 communities in Washington at greatest risk from wildfire are covered by the Central Washington Initiative. Threats from wildfires, evacuations and smoke have become part of life in these areas, resulting in high costs to forest health and local economies, the Forest Service said.
The forest work is informed by both the national Wildfire Crisis Strategy and the state Department of Natural Resources’ 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan.
The two agencies have made great strides working together in eastern Washington, state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said. “The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has been home to some of Washington’s largest wildfires in recent years, but we are well positioned to work alongside the Forest Service to reduce wildfire risk and restore forest health,” she said.
“Together with partners, we will plan and implement projects at a scale needed to address the risk of large, destructive fires which are so impactful to our communities. I’m excited to begin this important work to increase the pace of restoring our fire-adapted landscapes,” Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor Kristin Bail said.