The Taylor Bridge fire that scorched more than 36 square miles east of Cle Elum and destroyed 61 homes has been contained. But the state isn’t out of the fire danger woods by any stretch.
While that fire likely was caused by a construction crew, it burned out of control due in large part to dry conditions. Those conditions are present in other parts of the state, but some counties are facing another problem on top of that: insect infestation.
The state Department of Natural Resources has identified at least four areas – more than 1 million acres in Okanogan, Ferry, Klickitat and Yakima counties – where infestation of such bugs as mountain pine beetle and western spruce budworm poses a serious threat to forest health. Trees weakened by insects are more vulnerable to fire than healthy ones.
Most of the land deemed at-risk is public – including national forest and state DNR trust land – but about 200,000 of the acres are in private hands. Those landowners should take advantage of the state’s offer of a professional forester’s services to assess their risk and identify action that needs to be taken, including thinning and harvesting. State and federal funds could be available to help them with that work.
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The landowners’ participation is voluntary, but it’s to their benefit to take steps that would decrease risk of a catastrophic fire on their property.
Another strategy for improving the long-term health of the state’s forest is to increase its diversity. Many forests once dominated by insect-resistant Ponderosa pines are now predominantly Douglas fir, which aren’t as resistant. On top of that, a century of aggressive fire suppression has left forests dense and fuel-rich.
Thinning already weakened forests and planting more resistant trees are important tools in lowering the fire risk in years to come. Taking preventive steps now will have long-range benefits for landowners – and their neighbors.