PLAIN, Wash. — Every year, the snow melts in Eastern Washington, and grasses, trees and bushes grow. Then comes the heat of summer and that same vegetation becomes fuel for wildfires.
Tuesday night, the U.S. Forest Service introduced a plan in Plain to treat part of 75,000 acres to prevent future devastating wildfires, said Holly Krake, a spokesperson for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
The Forest Service will consider removing fuels, logging trees and performing prescribed burns. The overall plan is still in its early stages and the Forest Service is asking for public comment.
“One of the reasons that the four watersheds in the Upper Wenatchee Pilot Project were picked is because that is a really strategic place to invest,” Krake said. “There is wildfire risk and ground fire risk in that wildland urban interface where you have lots of homes intermixed with the forest.”
The Forest Service received $1.6 million in grants for the work. The project came out of the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative, an organization of federal, state, local governments and environmental groups focused on wildfire prevention.
Projects like these are particularly important in Chelan County, which has four of the most exposed cities to potential wildfires in Washington, according to a 2018 U.S. Forest Service study. The four cities are Leavenworth at No. 1, Wenatchee at No. 5, Chelan at No. 6 and Cashmere at No. 9.
It is time for the communities like Plain to start working toward creating healthier forests, Mick Lamar, Chelan County Fire District 9 chief, said at the Tuesday night meeting.
“I’m tired of admiring the problem,” Lamar said. He’s heard feedback from the public that they would like to see forest treatment completed to reduce the danger to their families and communities.
“This plan is to make the forest around us more healthy, more fire resistant, allow the wildlife to come back, allow the plant life to come back and allow us to be able to manage that resource so it is valuable to both recreate and live in and it is not a threat to us,” he said.
The Forest Service is conducting an environmental analysis on the 75,000 acre area to make sure there are no impacts to endangered species, like spotted owl, or to waterways. The environmental analysis will take a year-and-a-half to complete.
The Forest Service hopes to start working on the project by the spring of 2020, Krake said.
It is a much faster process than in the past and it is bigger in size.
The Forest Service has traditionally only treated about 5,000 to 10,000 acres at a time.
“One of the key goals of the Forest Service is to increase the pace and scale of restoration,” Krake said.
Once the Forest Service selects an array of projects it may take about 10 years to complete everything, she said, but the long-term impacts will be worth it.
“So our intent through this process is to set this watershed on a track for forest health for decades to come, quite literally,” Krake said.