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Preserving Washington’s biggest and best tidal surge plain

WA DNR News - April 8, 2019 - 11:14am

Tucked between Montesano and Cosmopolis near the mouth of the Chehalis River rests Washington’s largest and highest-quality coastal surge plain wetland.

The Chehalis River Surge Plain Natural Area Preserve is a 4,493-acre site that protects rare plant communities and species that thrive in the estuary environment where fresh and salt water systems meet. It is one of the 94 Natural Areas conserved by the Washington Department of Natural Resources for their high-quality native ecosystems and rare species or communities of species. Visitors to this minimally impacted, rural surge plain can learn about wetland function, use of the area by a variety of species, and the cultural significance of the site.

DNR wants to continue to enhance these opportunities for visitors. That’s why the agency has submitted a $1.5 million Environmental Resilience budget request for the 2019-2021 Biennium to the State Legislature.

A portion of that request for management of DNR Natural Areas will cover invasive weed control and facilities maintenance at the Chehalis River Surge Plain. DNR is also requesting a $55,000 investment from the state capital budget for future trail improvements and bridge and sign installation in the area.

“The Chehalis River Surge Plain gives families and children an incredible opportunity to get outside and enjoy our state’s Natural Areas together,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said. “In a time when we are so often looking at screens, it’s critical for our kids to have opportunities to learn, explore, and play in nature.”

People of all ages and abilities can experience the Chehalis River Surge Plain from the trail and boardwalk that follows an old railroad bed alongside portions Preachers Slough and Blue Slough, two significant side channels along the Chehalis River. They can also launch hand-carry watercraft at one of the small parking areas on the main stem of the Chehalis River and at the smaller Blue Slough parking area.

DNR has poured significant effort into the Chehalis River Surge Plain to make it a fun, safe, and engaging place for visitors, as envisioned during the community planning process that shaped the development of access features. The agency has recently completed several projects to increase accessibility, including the installation of new ADA handrails on Preachers Trailhead Bridge, new signage, new bollards at the Preachers Slough boat launch, and re-grading of Preachers Slough Road with new vehicle pullouts.

“The Chehalis River Surge Plain has come a long way in terms of providing a place for the public to come to enjoy the outdoors and learn about the ecological and historical features of the preserve,” Renee Mitchell, DNR Natural Areas Manager, said. “Although the site has been available for public access for 30 years, it was in definite need of some significant site improvements. In all of its transformation, however, the greatest success I feel is seeing people bring their kids out there.”

This summer, visitors can expect to see fresh gravel on the ADA Shoreline Access Trail and new fiberglass bridges this summer. The agency is also working on new interpretive signs for the three-and-a-half mile interpretive hiking loop.

DNR designated the Chehalis River Surge Plain as a Natural Area Preserve in 1989 to protect rare and high-quality native ecosystems and native species. The area is home to a remarkable variety of wildlife, including the rare Olympia mudminnow, pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, reticulate sculpins, wood ducks, osprey, and mink. Now is an especially great time of year to visit the surge plains because several species are more visible during the spring mating season.

Throughout the year, families visit the area to walk along the interpretive trail, paddlers launch canoes and kayaks from the Blue Slough Access and Preachers Slough Road, and birders watch for wildlife.

About DNR’s Natural Areas Program
Under the oversight of Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, DNR conserves nearly 164,000 acres of lands and ecological features in designated natural area preserves and natural resources conservation areas, protecting the highest-quality examples of natural Washington and providing opportunities for research, environmental education, and low-impact recreation. In addition, the Commissioner manages 2.5 million acres of trust lands for public benefit to ensure forested watersheds for clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation access, and wildfire protections. Commissioner Franz also oversees the state’s 3 million acres of aquatic lands, as well as industrial activities within forested areas, statewide geologic information, and forest health efforts.

Categories: Partner Feeds

New maps help you walk away from tsunami

WA DNR News - April 5, 2019 - 11:18am

Knowing where to walk and how long it might take to get there can be one of the most important pieces of information for anyone in Washington’s coastal communities when a tsunami strikes.

People that live work and play near the coast in Washington State are at risk for tsunamis. Our main causes of tsunamis in Washington are from earthquakes and landslides. If you feel an earthquake, that’s your warning and you should evacuate and get to high ground immediately.

That’s why the geologists at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have just published evacuation walk time maps for Port Angeles, Bellingham, Anacortes, Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis.

 

These maps, produced by the Washington Geological Survey within DNR, show the time it would take to evacuate on foot from the tsunami inundations zones of a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. The walking pace is modeled at a slow walk pace, using the timing of crosswalks, adjusted for different terrain.

Using models of a Cascadia earthquake, the maps use colors to indicate how many minutes it would take to walk to safety at a moderate pace within these communities. Waves from a Cascadia earthquake-induced tsunami could reach Aberdeen in as soon as 15 to 20 minutes.

319 years since Cascadia last quaked

The geologic record shows the Cascadia subduction zone – the offshore area where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate pushes under the larger North American plate – produces megathrust quakes every 300 to 600 years.

These maps are modeled on a magnitude 9 Cascadia earthquake. The geologic record shows earthquakes of this size occur approximately every 2,500 years, with the last striking in 1700.

Models, maps available online

The new pedestrian maps and maps for other communities are available through the interactive map on our web site: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/programs-and-services/geology/geologic-hazards/tsunamis/evacuation

The interactive map also provides access to tsunami evacuation brochures for areas that do not have walk time maps yet.

Other information about impacts from earthquakes to Washington communities is available on our Geologic Information Portal at: https://geologyportal.dnr.wa.gov

Geologists to discuss tsunami hazards at coastal Road Show next week

Washington Geological Survey geologists will present evacuation information and more with tsunami and earthquake experts from the Washington Emergency Management Division, the National Weather Service, Washington Sea Grant and local officials at next week’s Tsunami Road Show.

These experts will give 90-minute public presentations and answer questions at:

  • 10 a.m., Tuesday, April 9 at

Pacific County PUD Auditorium,

405 Duryea Street, in Raymond, WA

  • 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 9 at

Chautauqua Lodge,

304 14th St NW, in Long Beach, WA

  • Noon, Wednesday, April 10 at

Ocean Shores Convention Center,

120 W. Chance a La Mer, Ocean Shores, WA

  • 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 10 at

Aberdeen (J.M. Weatherwax) High School,

410 N. G. St., Aberdeen, WA

  • 10 a.m., Thursday, April 11 with the Makah Tribe at

Makah Tribal Community Hall,

81 3rd Ave. Neah Bay, WA

  • 6:00 p.m., April 11 at

Peninsula College in The Little Theater,

1502 E. Lauridsen Boulevard, Port Angeles, WA

  • 10 a.m., Friday, April 12 with the Lower Elwah Klallam Tribe at

Tribal Center,

2851 Lower Elwha Road, Port Angeles, WA

 

Categories: Partner Feeds

Wildfires Already? We’re Working Hard, and Need Your Help, Too

WA DNR News - March 21, 2019 - 2:17pm

Winter hadn’t even ended, but helicopters dumped buckets of water over wildfires. Engines with 10-person hand crews rushed to the front lines, and our dispatch centers quickly allocated resources to the threatened Western Washington communities.

You read that right: Western Washington.

Since Monday, firefighters responded to 50 wildfires in Washington state, with 49 of those were on the west side. 

During a few of those fires, law enforcement ordered evacuations and road closures for Kelso and Longview residents in Cowlitz County on Wednesday. (Find the latest info on that fire here.)

Washington State Department of Natural Resources Meteorologist Josh Clark, who forecasts fire weather and danger, calls this dry spell on the western side of the state an anomaly.

A firefighter at work during late winter/early spring wildfires.

“Offshore, easterly winds are a known, somewhat common, critical fire weather pattern for Western Washington where high pressure sets up east of the Cascades and low pressure on the west side. These winds usually come with warm and very dry conditions that promote considerable west side fire activity,” Clark said.

This event stands out not because of the phenomenon but the timing. Generally, this pattern occurs during our peak fire season in late August through early October. To have east winds in excess of 35-50 mph, relative humidities between 11 and25 percent, and temperatures reaching near 80 degrees Fahrenheit in March is extremely rare. These conditions, combined with abundant dead or dormant grasses and shrubs, allowed for a ‘perfect storm’ of weather and fuels conditions to bring about considerable fire activity over the past few days.”

Although more moisture is expected in the coming days, and this dry spell is an anomaly for this time of year, DNR is still expecting warm and dry conditions over the summer.  

This week should be a reminder to Western Washingtonians that we need to practice wildfire prevention all year long.  Last year, wildfire investigations found most wildfires in Washington state are human-caused.

So with the western side of the state becoming more populated, and our summers becoming hotter and drier, everyone needs to be intentional about their actions.

Prevention is simple. Don’t have anything dragging on your car. Put out your campfire (drown it, stir it, make sure all embers are out). Know the wildfire risk in your community. Check conditions before lighting a burn pile.

By taking these simple steps, you can help protect our communities and landscapes.

“Wildfire is a Washington state problem,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who oversee DNR wildfire operations and the largest firefighting team in the state. “While my team and I get ready for the season, we need the public to help us out by being wildfire aware and practicing prevention.”

File photo: Commissioner Franz visited Western Washington Interagency Fire Training Academy last year as firefighters worked a fire suppression exercise.

At the peak of wildfire season last year, 3,000 firefighters were out on the landscapes. All helicopters were in the skies. Every engine on the fireline. Despite prepositioning our resources — a strategy that places firefighters in at-risk areas — our team was stretched thin.

Franz is working every day with the Legislature to get a $55 million wildfire and forest health package approved. It would get more full-time firefighters, air support, and invest in treatments that would restore the health of our forests.

“I’m proud of my wildfire team’s hard work this week. They were prepared, and we were able to keep most of these wildfires small,” said Franz. “However, going into late spring and summer, in order to better protect communities, we need more resources as conditions get hotter and drier. We need funding that will staff full-time firefighters, support more air assets, and carry out treatments that restore the health of our forests.”

Categories: Partner Feeds

It’s International Day of Forests – Do You Know What A Healthy Forest Looks Like?

WA DNR News - March 21, 2019 - 1:09pm

As Washington state and much of the West struggles with more damaging wildfire seasons, you might hear policy experts and elected officials use terms like “forest health” or “forest resiliency” when talking about ways to reduce wildfire risk – but what exactly does that mean? And what does a healthy forest look like here in The Evergreen State?

The answer might surprise you. This International Day of Forests, we break it down:

What is a healthy forest?

Simply put, a forest is healthy if the trees can access the nutrients, water and sunlight they needs to thrive and reproduce, and the forest is resilient to disturbances such as insects, disease, and fire. A healthy forest will also have a better chance of withstanding the effects of climate change.

It’s a common misconception, however, that for a forest to be healthy, it must be lush – filled with a dense under story and an abundance of trees – and that a landscape is healthier if it has more trees in it. Depending on the region, a healthy forest can look much different.

The upper photo, taken in 1934 in the Kittitas County area before excluding fire from the ecosystem, shows a more resilient forest (Photo by Reino R. Sarlin/USDA Forest Service). The lower photo of the same area, taken in 2010 after constant fire suppression, shows an over-crowded forest (Photo by John F. Marshall).

Historic photos of Washington’s forests, like the one above, show that prior to European settlement our landscapes didn’t have as many trees. That’s because wildfires were a frequent part of the ecosystem, coming through regularly and keeping the amount of trees and other vegetation in balance. More than a century of wildfire suppression has allowed these forests to fill in, creating fuel for uncharacteristically severe fires.

That’s one reason why forest health has become a hot topic among state leaders. According to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, 2.7 million acres of forest in Central and Eastern Washington alone need active management to increase the forest’s resiliency to insects, diseases, climate change, and wildfire.

In 2015, Washington had a recording-breaking fire season: more than 1 million acres and 230 houses burned, and wildfire-related spending cost taxpayers $89 million. Projections indicate that if we don’t take action, the Pacific Northwest will experience four times more acres burned annually by 2080.

“Restoring forest health and reducing wildfire risk go hand in hand,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who leads DNR. “Through bold action taken with our national, state, and local partners, our forests can become more resilient, reducing wildfires and keeping The Evergreen State true to its name.”

Supporting forest health initiatives benefits us all. Healthy and resilient forest ecosystems trap and store carbon from our atmosphere, provide timber and recreation jobs, wildlife habitat, wood products, and clean drinking water.

What are the different types of forests in Washington?

Washington State is home to four general forest regions, each with their own characteristics. There are forests east of the Cascade Mountains, mountain forests, coastal forests along the Pacific Ocean, and Western lowland forests primarily along the Interstate 5 corridor.

Historical photographs often show open, park-like stands of ponderosa pine, such as this one from the Blue Mountains. (Photo courtesy of Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon)
  • Low-elevation eastside forests. Shown above, these are often forests predominantly composed of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and grand fir. Common in the hills and lowlands of Central and Eastern Washington, these forests historically experienced low and mixed severity fires every 5 to 25 years, and they often thrive when they have open spaces between trees.
Many picturesque timberline views in Western Washington are framed by mountain hemlock — our high-elevation conifer found in the wettest and snowiest locations.
  • High elevation forests. Predominantly subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, and other conifers. Shown above, these types of forests historically experienced mixed to high severity fires every 80 to 300 years.
This mature (300-400 years old) Western Washington forest is characterized by towering Douglas firs with hemlocks present in all size classes, from juveniles to large canopy trees.
  • Western lowland forests. Forests in the Olympic Mountains’ rain shadow (around Sequim and Port Townsend), and southern Puget Sound lowlands, historically had mixed severity fires every 80 to 200 years.
  • Coastal forests. Moist forests in Washington are dominated by Douglas-fir, western hemlock, Sitka spruce or western red cedar and historically have high severity fires every 200 to 500+ years.
What threatens healthy forests?

A healthy forest may be affected by one of more of the following threats:

  • Climate change. Climate change is affecting the temperature and precipitation patterns in Washington, which can contribute to tree stress. Tree stress makes trees more susceptible to insects and diseases, which can lead to increased tree mortality.
  • Wildfires. Fire is a natural renewal process that promotes biological diversity and healthy ecosystems in our forests. However, projections suggest that fire frequency, intensity and extent will increase due to increased temperatures, earlier spring snow melt, longer fire seasons, and overcrowded forests.
  • Insects. Insects such as bark beetles can present a serious threat to forests when trees are stressed. Even though they are a native species, on an already weakened tree bark beetles can contribute to tree mortality. Defoliating insects can cause foliage loss in trees, contributing to tree stress and possibly bark beetle attacks.
  • Disease. Trees are susceptible to bacteria, viruses, and fungi. These diseases can affect tree health in a variety of ways, such as wood decay, tree growth, and tree mortality.
  • Invasive species. Invasive species are plants, animals, and organisms that are not native to Washington. These species can grow and spread quickly, harming the local plants and wildlife.

Want to take a deep dive into the most recent threats seen in Washington’ forests? Read our state’s 2018 Forest Health Highlights report.

How can we make our forests healthier?

There are several ways to make an unhealthy forest healthy again, depending on the type of forest and its purpose.

  • Mechanical treatments. This refers to the physical removal of small and densely packed trees that have accumulated due to fire suppression, through the use of chain saws, chippers and mastication. These mechanical treatments improve forest health by opening up the understory in Eastside forests, diversifying wildlife habitat, and reducing the possibility of a fire spreading quickly from the forest floor into the upper crowns of large trees.
  • Prescribed fire. Because fire frequently occurred in eastside forests, engaging in controlled burning there can improve forest health. Controlled burns – also called prescribed fire – allow professionals to apply fire to the right landscapes, in the right intensity, and at the right time to boost forest health. Prescribed fire reduces wildfire fuels, increases the effectiveness of mechanical treatments, improves forage conditions for grazing animals, and can reduce the risk of insect spread.
  • Active management practices. In moist Western Washington forests, an abundance of vegetation can be healthy, and these forests don’t experience wildfires as often. But because of our changing climate and historic logging practices, these forests will still require some active management to ensure a healthy ecosystem.
  • Regeneration harvests. Sometimes, all of the trees on a plot of land need to be harvested so the area can be replanted with trees that are better suited for the region and environment.
  • Teamwork. Collaboration is the key to improving forest health in Washington. Landowners –state agencies, federal agencies, tribes, the timber industry and homeowners – all need to work together to coordinate landscape-scale and cross-boundary projects in priority forests. Collaboration among landowners will help speed our progress on creating more resilient and sustainable forests. Read Washington state’s forest health strategy at www.dnr.wa.gov/foresthealthplan.

Want to learn even more? (It is International Day of Forests, after all.) Watch longtime forest researcher Paul Hessburg’s TED Talk about the history of forests in the Pacific Northwest and their relationship to fire:

Categories: Partner Feeds

‘Be A Part Of Something Bigger’: Women in Wildfire

WA DNR News - March 8, 2019 - 10:29am

She started fighting fires right out of high school. Digging line, packing a 40-pound bag of water over rough terrain, sometimes working all day and night — for Jennifer Bammert, it was about giving the fight all you got.

“All the women here can do the job,” Bammert told the Ellensburg Daily Record in 1994. “I think if you do your best and try hard … you’ll be recognized.”

Jennifer Bammert out in the field, talking to reporters. Image: Ellensburg Daily News

DNR promoted Bammert to crew supervisor, where she acted as incident commander, instructing firefighters and making decisions on suppression.

In her 14th season, during a large fire response, she directed 30 firefighters and was the only woman. All while keeping a baby-sitter on call for her son.

For her then fellow part-time firefighters at DNR — like Laurie Cox and Vicki Christiansen — it’s a similar story. They quickly gained respect for their grit on the fireline and love of protecting our forests.

“After my first year of firefighting and being with 19 other guys, I was hooked,” Cox said. “There wasn’t a lot of women in the agency at the time. I paved the way myself.

Firefighter Laurie Cox getting ready to work on the fire line.

Cox went on to be a forester, who now oversees the Family Forest Fish Passage Program, and she’s an organizer of the largest wildland fire training program in the state. This is now Bammert’s 39th fire season. She is still with DNR working hard, trying her best and newly promoted to Fire Suppression Program Manager. Christiansen served as Washington State Forester for years before becoming the U.S. Forest Service Chief.

These are just a few of the amazing women literally blazing trails for the last 40 years to make a clearer path for the next generation of firefighters.

‘Women are absolutely critical on the fire line’

As the second woman elected Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz strongly believes in further expanding the diversity of DNR’s wildfire team, the largest firefighting team in the state.

“Women are absolutely critical on the fire line for lots of reasons,” Franz said.

Not only for their leadership skills, but for their fearlessness, their courage, and their context of compassion and empathy, which are all critical qualities that we need in our firefighters. We need these women not only out on the fire line and in the community, but also back in our communication centers running logistics.”

In the last year, more women applied to be a DNR wildland firefighter than in 2018, but women still only make up 14 percent of DNR’s wildland fire team. Franz recently talked with women currently serving on the fire line to hear how we can make our firefighting space more welcoming and inclusive.

‘It’s really empowering’

DNR firefighter Celeste Winther and Franz discussed the multitude of jobs that come with wildland fire, and that people should know that you don’t have to hold an actual tool to be a firefighter.

“My first summer on fire, I was six months pregnant,” Winther said. “I was working on an incident management team (doing logistics work), and you’re still putting in the effort. My mom was worried, but I told her, ‘ I’m never going to be surrounded by more first aid personnel.’”

Celeste Winther stands next to an engine, talking with DNR about her fire experience.

Hannah Blackstock shared that she was a little intimidated to apply for a firefighter position, but last year she found herself out on the fireline in White Pass — riding in an ATV up a ski slope to set up a radio repeater for emergency communications. The views at the top were unreal, an experience you only get when working in wildfire.

It’s an opportunity to be a part of something bigger. When you see all the disasters on the news and you just want to help, this is a way you can help,” Blackstock said. “You learn so many life skills. It’s really empowering.”

Apply for our wildfire team here.
Categories: Partner Feeds

‘A win-win-win’: DNR enters first lease for solar power generation on state lands

WA DNR News - March 7, 2019 - 2:21pm

For the first time, large-scale solar power generation is coming to Washington’s public lands.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced Wednesday that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is entering into an agreement with a utility company to lease 480 acres of state trust lands in Klickitat County as part of a 150-megawatt solar power project.

Portland-based Avangrid Renewables agreed to a 40-year lease for the property, near the town of Bickleton, and expects to start transmitting power late next year. But the site will be generating more than electricity – it will also bring in $120,000 each year for schools across the state.

“Solar power is a win-win-win for the people of Washington,” said Commissioner Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “It generates significant revenue for our schools while creating jobs and providing clean, affordable energy to our homes and businesses.”

Solar power may be new to DNR, but the department already has an expansive clean energy program anchored by wind energy. Each year, turbines on state trust land generate 200 megawatts of power and raise $1.2 million for school construction and other public services.

The Bickleton lease is not a one-off project – DNR has two other parcels in Eastern Washington that are currently up for lease for solar power generation, and more than a dozen companies have expressed interest in using upwards of 30 tracts of state land to create solar power.

“Our goal is to produce 500 megawatts of solar power on public lands by 2025,” Franz said. “The clean energy we generate reduces pollution and builds energy independence in our communities. And it also creates family-wage jobs in parts of our state that need them the most.”

The Klickitat County parcel is currently being used as grazing land for livestock, generating $2 per acre per year. But Avangrid will instead be leasing the land it uses for power generation for $300 a year.

A map of the parcel in Klickitat County that DNR is leasing for the generation of solar power.

If the land were leased solely for grazing rights at the $2 price for the next 40 years, it would generate $38,400 for the Common School Trust, which is used to help fund school construction across the state. Once Avangrid begins generating power at the site, DNR will make that same figure over four months. In the 40-year span of the lease, the property will instead generate about $4.8 million for the trust.

“Executing the first solar power lease on state lands for a project like this is an exciting development for us as we work to expand solar energy in the Northwest,” said Avangrid Renewables’ Vice President for Business Development Jesse Gronner. “We still have a lot of work to do to push this project forward, but we think it’s a great site for a solar project, and we thank Commissioner Franz and her staff for working with us.”

Categories: Partner Feeds

Check your burn pile! Is it completely out?

WA DNR News - March 4, 2019 - 9:32am
Follow the outdoor burning rules before lighting any fire.

Keep in mind that the major human cause of wildfires in Washington is outdoor burning. These escaped wildfires are investigated and, if you are found guilty, you can be fined. If burning is allowed in your area, the only material that can be burned is natural vegetation grown on the property where the burning occurs. Also, remember to be careful that smoke is not a nuisance to your neighbors.

Please know the rules before starting any outdoor burning. It also is illegal to use burn barrels in Washington.

DNR wants to encourage a variety of ways to rid your yard of waste instead of burning it. Since you run the risk of an escaped fire when burning (not to mention smoke pollution), why not consider different ways to do away with that yard waste.

  • Compost it – It’s a practical and convenient approach for disposing of yard waste. Any vegetable matter can be composted. Organic material, such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, weeds, and the remains of garden plants, make excellent compost.
  • Chip it – Turn large branches and debris into mulch. If you don’t already own a chipper, check with your local equipment rental agency. Invite your neighbors to join in to make it more cost efficient for everyone.
  • Use curbside pickup.
  • Take it to the landfill.

We talk about fire prevention every day at DNR, so when it’s time for you to clean up your property from yard waste, please consider an alternative to burning. If you need to burn, please follow the rules!

Categories: Partner Feeds

Wildfire Contractors Needed

WA DNR News - March 1, 2019 - 10:37am

Want to help fight fires and protect communities across Washington?

In advance of fire season, DNR is reaching out to local communities to help people understand how to provide fire suppression resources to wildland firefighting efforts.

If you are interested in joining the qualified, trained, and available equipment operators who help DNR during wildfire season, check out our webpage for information on how to become a “Call When Needed” vendor.

Are you new to providing wildfire suppression equipment?

DNR is offering two Operator Safety Trainings for non-VIPR resources. All non-VIPR resources can sign up to be in a source list for Emergency Equipment Rental Agreements (EERA). This provides a statewide database of preseason vendor information to be used in combination with VIPR resources on DNR incidents. RSVP for the class through the contact below.

Ellensburg
March 19 and 22 at 9 a.m.
Southeast Region Office
713 Bowers Road
Ellensburg, WA
Contact: Spencer Slyfield at spencer.slyfield@dnr.wa.gov

Wenatchee
March 22 and 27 at 9 a.m.
Wenatchee Work Center
5552 Industry Lane
East Wenatchee, WA
Contact: Bobby LaPoint at robert.lapoint@dnr.wa.gov

Fire Suppression Resource Availability Agreements, commonly referred to as ”Call When Needed” Agreements, are preseason agreements used to support or engage in wildland firefighting. These agreements serve as an organized way to show DNR what private resources are available for hire within a specific geographic area or for their service specialty.

 DNR uses these preseason agreements to establish a pool of qualified, trained, and available vendors who can provide equipment and services in a timely fashion, upon request.

For people who want to learn how to provide resources for wildland fire suppression and what all it entails, go to the Provide Equipment and Services for Fire Suppression page on DNR’s website.

Categories: Partner Feeds

Homeowners take proactive steps to reduce wildfire risk on their forestland

WA DNR News - February 28, 2019 - 9:56am

Brent Steinhart understands fire danger – he’s a volunteer with Spokane County Fire District 4. So when he looked at the dense forest surrounding his home, he knew he had to act quickly to reduce his vulnerability to a wildfire.

Steinhart and his wife, Corey, worked with a Washington State Department of Natural Resources forester in the spring of 2017 to identify 1.5 acres of high-risk forest on their land. The Steinharts own 20 acres in the wildland urban interface – areas in our state where human development, such as homes and businesses, meet natural areas, including forests and grasslands.

Private residents own a significant amount of forestland in Washington, and problems like bark beetles, drought, and overly dense forests all contribute to a forest health crisis that’s making it easier for severe wildfires to spread. That’s why DNR works with small forest landowners to reduce wildfire risk on their property, including through forest health treatments like thinning and wood chipping.

Before and after photos of the Steinharts’ property.

The Steinharts, both in their 50s, decided on a do-it-yourself forest thinning project. The area they tackled had tall ponderosa and lodgepole pine, crowded with smaller pine and Douglas fir. To dispose of the excess vegetation and smaller trees, they used some for firewood and chipped the rest. Through this work, they significantly reduced their ladder fuels – the vegetation tall enough to spread flames into the upper crowns of large trees. In all, the project cost DNR $1,260 in incentives.

DNR forester Randy Burke said homeowners can save time by hiring a private contractor to do the work, “but many homeowners enjoy their sweat-equity investment on their property.” The project makes the forest healthier, too, because many Eastern Washington forests thrive when they’re less dense.

The couple’s work was so successful that they treated 2 more acres, finishing in the fall of 2018, and were planning a third project.

“By thinning and allowing those trees to not compete, your forest can be healthier, and it looks really nice when you’re done,” Brent said.

Supporting small forest landowners in improving forest health on their property, and in turn reducing the risk of wildfires, is a key part of DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, as well as the agency’s Wildland Fire Protection 10-Year Strategic Plan.

“Solving our forest health crisis will take an all-lands, all-hands approach, including work by federal and state governments, tribes, timber companies and homeowners who live on forestland,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who oversees DNR. “I am optimistic that we are up for the challenge. Across our state, we are already seeing a willingness by so many people to work together and get this done.”

‘You can’t neglect it’

Brenda and Ryan Nash’s Hidden Valley home sits on 20 acres in Kittitas County. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources photo)

Brenda and Ryan Nash are taking a similar approach to their wooded property in the Hidden Valley area outside of Cle Elem. The couple moved there in July 2016 from Western Washington, and their 20 acres needed a lot of work to reduce wildfire risk – most of their forest was overgrown.

“That first year, we had a crew come in … and work for four weeks to help (fire-prepare) the entire property,” Brenda Nash said. “It was a great starting point. There was still a lot left to do. There’s still a lot of thinning of the trees we need to do. There’s still debris on the ground that needs to be burned or chipped.”

Complicating matters, much of the couple’s property is on a steep slope – so steep that they couldn’t use mechanical thinning or chipping equipment, she said.

“It really is all manual work that had to happen – very grueling manual labor up and down this pitch,” she said, adding that a controlled burn might be done later because it would be the most efficient way to reduce dense brush, while allowing the larger trees on her property to thrive.

Nash and her husband want to do more than reduce fire risk. They want to restore habitat for elk, and a controlled burn (also called prescribed fire), would open up their forest, increasing elk habitat and regenerating plants that elk eat on the forest floor.

“To retain healthy trees and wildlife, it’s a give and take. It’s a balance,” she said. “You can’t just let nature take over, or else other things happen that affect the wildlife and certainly wildfire if it ever came through.”

The Nashes plan to live in their Central Washington home for the rest of their lives and pass it on to their children.

“It’s our way of life,” Nash said. “It’s not for everyone – living in an area like this, it comes with a lot of responsibility. You can’t just neglect it. But it’s worth it.”

If you live in a wooded area and want to learn more about wildfire preparedness on your property, visit DNR’s Prepare for Wildfire webpage.

Brenda Nash, from left, speaks last fall with Rose Shriner of the Kittitas County Conservation District, Kara Karboski of the Washington Prescribed Fire Council, and Roslyn property owner Chris Martin about her land during a prescribed fire Training Exchange (TREX) event. Nash allowed the trainees to assess her property as part of a learning exercise. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources photo)
Categories: Partner Feeds

Volunteer Fire Assistance Phase 1 grant opens March 8, 2019

WA DNR News - February 22, 2019 - 10:50am
Fire districts can order personal protective equipment (PPE) at 50% cost.

Several factors affect the impact of wildfire in Washington, including the capacity of rural fire districts to respond to wildfires.

That’s where DNR’s Fire District Assistance Program can help. We administer grants to help local fire districts and departments obtain more resources.

Eligible fire districts and departments can order personal protective equipment (PPE) and other fire equipment at 50 percent cost through the DNR Fire Cache beginning March 8, 2019. USDA Forest Service Volunteer Fire Assistance grant funding pays the other 50 percent.

Districts and departments can place orders for reduced cost PPE through an online shopping cart until April 30, 2019 or until grant funding is expended, whichever occurs first.

Interested? Learn more at the DNR Fire District Assistance webpage for eligibility requirements and ordering process.

Categories: Partner Feeds

Forest restoration work helped firefighters stop Boyds Fire

WA DNR News - January 29, 2019 - 12:03pm

Tom Merritt’s Eastern Washington home is about 15 miles away from where Boyds Fire broke out on the evening of Aug. 11. Perched high up on a hill, he saw smoke and watched as the fire rapidly grew.

“I was watching it from the deck of my house in Colville and I was like, ‘Oh, that thing is getting after it,’” Merritt recalled.

And it did spread fast.

The fire began in the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area, west of the Columbia River in Northeast Washington. It was windy that evening, and embers blew ahead of the fire, igniting more forest and growing the fire further. The fire threatened a cedar mill vital to the local economy, businesses, private homes, and Bonneville Power Administration lines that serve Ferry County. When those power lines go down, the whole county loses power.

“It was very eye-opening,” said Daro Palmer, assistant manager of the wildlife area. “Fire is a very impressive thing. With that fire, the way it was with high winds and the rate it was moving at, I was awestruck.”

With so much at stake and the fire quickly growing in intensity, firefighters needed to act fast to contain the blaze. However, steep terrain meant firefighters would have to dig firelines mostly by hand, and in a forest thick with vegetation, this was easier said than done. The fire grew to more than 3,000 acres within a few days, prompting evacuation notices for nearby residents.

Then firefighters learned of a respite: the fire was headed toward forests that had received forest treatments, such as tree thinning and controlled burning, carried out by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service. Because of this work, these forests were much less dense, making them easier to navigate with minimal fuels (dry brush and woody debris). The fire would not spread as quickly through those woods and hopefully would stay on the ground.

“Without the previous treatments we would not have had the time to construct firelines and remove the fuel to be able to burn out the fire. So we would have had to let the fire grow larger in order to buy us enough time to safely construct firelines,” said Cindi Tonasket-Ebel, landowner assistance forester for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, who assisted with fighting the fire.

In the end, those firelines were what contained and stopped Boyds Fire.

The yellow line in the map above indicates Boyds Fire’s footprint, it burned 4,712 acres in total. The pink areas show where the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife previously treated the forest with prescribed burns. The blue line is the wildlife area boundary. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife image)

The story of forest health treatments aiding wildland firefighters is becoming more noticed as the state and its partners work to increase the scale of forest health work in Central and Eastern Washington under DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan. Treatment areas provided a tactical advantage during the Stormy Creek and Cougar Creek fires near Entiat in July, and prescribed burning and forest thinning done previously in the Colville National Forest helped crews battle the Horns Mountain Fire in August.

Forest health treatments

Different landowners may have different reasons for treating their forests, but forest health treatments are generally aimed at returning many Central and Eastern Washington forests to a more natural state – one that is resilient to wildfires and less likely to spread flames.

Common treatments consist of thinning small trees from an overly dense forest, and removing the low-hanging branches, woody debris, and brush that could help fire spread from the ground up into the crowns of trees – also called ladder fuels. Forest thinning is often followed with prescribed – or controlled – burning to further reduce fuels and help encourage plant regeneration in ecosystems that rely on occasional, low-intensity fires.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has actively thinned 4,100 acres in the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area for more than 10 years in order to provide high-quality habitat for species of all sizes – from deer and moose to birds and butterflies. They have also conducted prescribed burning on 890 acres within that stand to eliminate the slash produced by thinning, reducing the wildfire hazard even more while rejuvenating the forest floor, said Matt Eberlein, prescribed fire program manager for Fish and Wildlife.

Firelines dug in areas treated by the U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife cut Boyds Fire off from reaching more forest, ultimately containing the fire. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife photo)

For many pine forests in Central and Eastern Washington, fire is part of the ecosystem’s natural process. It cleans the forest floor, makes room for sunlight to reach the floor, and nourishes the soil. It also reduces competition for nutrients, allowing trees to grow healthier.

The U.S. Forest Service has also applied forest health treatments to about 1,500 acres in the Sherman Creek area since 2012. These treatments include cutting small trees to reduce ladder fuels, mechanical thinning, and pile burning.

“In a combination of forest activities and prescribed fires, we were actually able to bring that stand of timber a little closer to what its natural state would have been,” Eberlein said.

Outside of those treated areas, Boyds Fire burned hot and ferociously.

“It carried through the untreated landscapes fairly easily through continuation of the fuels and spots where embers go up in the air and land up ahead of the fire and start new fires,” said Gary Jennings, a deputy incident commander on the fire.

In areas that were thinned, the fire still burned hot, but because there were no ladder fuels to spread the flames upward, it remained largely on the forest floor, said Richard Tveten, forest manager for Fish and Wildlife.

“It was a very hot, windy day, so the fire still carried through the areas that had been thinned and burned, but the damage to the forest was minor,” Tveten said.

5 homes lost, 23 protected

During parts of Boyds Fire, in the Colville area, low-hanging branches and an overabundance of tree saplings provided ladder fuels for fire to spread into the forest’s canopy, growing the fire more rapidly. (Photo by Gary Jennings)

The effort to fight Boyds Fire was multilateral. Under the management of Northwest Incident Management Team 11, DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, Joint Fire Districts Stevens County 8/Ferry County 3, Colville Bureau of Indian of Affairs, and other agencies worked together to suppress the fire using firefighters from 16 different states. About 1,100 people were engaged in fighting the fire. Teams worked around the clock until the fire was suppressed, Jennings said.

The fire burned for 21 days over 4,712 acres. It burned through land managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, DNR, and Washington State Parks. Within the perimeter, five homes and four outbuildings were lost, but 23 homes and many more outbuildings survived.

This year marked Jennings’ 44th fire season. Though he is retired from his position as a fire management officer with the Forest Service, he still works during the wildfire season with Northwest Incident Team 11.

“Everyone is working under the same rules of engagement,” Jennings said. “It goes from training to coordination. And we are pretty fortunate to have such a strong inter-agency working group in wildland fire. In my job, I worked around the country and you don’t always find that. And every year we seem to make better strides.”

Jennings said Washington’s approach to wildfires can be a good example for the rest of the country. From inter-agency collaboration, to the methods used to fight wildfires, to forest health treatments that reduce wildfire risk, Washington will continue to make progress.

The inter-agency approach makes sense when treating forests too. This fire burned across the boundary lines of seven public agencies, plus private property. DNR’s forest health plan includes a vision of these landowners all working together to implement large-scale, cost-effective treatments to significantly improve the chances of avoiding the kind of intense wildfires that so significantly impact Washingtonians.

“As we face a warming climate and longer fire seasons, we need to continue to collaborate across property lines to safeguard our forests and communities,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands in Washington state. “Washington is known for its evergreen forests, and the thinning and prescribed burning that agencies are doing to maintain the health of those forests is critical to preserving our natural resources for generations to come.”

To ensure forest work continues across Washington at the pace and scale needed to achieve this, Franz is seeking $55 million from Washington’s state legislature. Earlier this month, Franz also unveiled her Wildland Fire Protection 10-Year Strategic Plan to help the state prepare for and manage increasing wildfire challenges.

As head of the state’s largest wildfire fighting force – the Department of Natural Resources – Commissioner Franz knows that increased investments in wildfire preparedness and forest health restoration are key to reducing wildfire risk in Washington.

Categories: Partner Feeds

New grants help forest collaboratives restore health, wildfire resiliency to Washington’s forests

WA DNR News - January 23, 2019 - 9:03am

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is empowering communities to tackle important forest health issues with two new grant programs. These programs, which support DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, aim to create forests that are resilient to wildfires, insects and disease by supporting large-scale forest restoration efforts led by groups called forest collaboratives.

Forest collaboratives bring together those who know the forests best – conservationists, tribes, timber workers, scientists, recreationists, local government, and other community members. Despite this diversity, they all have one thing in common – an inclusive, science-based approach to forest management. And by designing restoration projects in an integrated way, forest collaboratives work toward healthy forests that provide meaningful ecological, economic, and cultural value for Washingtonians.

Of the two new grant programs, DNR’s All Lands Forest Restoration Grant Program supports forest treatments, such as the thinning of small-diameter trees and controlled burning to reduce underbrush and fire risk. The second grant program, the Building Forest Partnerships Grant Program, funds facilitator time, meeting spaces, forest field trips and other opportunities to forge relationships and reach consensus on forest management.

Nine forest collaboratives from around the state received a combined $1.8 million through these two grant programs, and they are leveraging the funds in innovative ways to increase the pace and scale of forest health treatments in Washington.

This map shows the forest collaboratives in Washington state that received grant money from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. (The Nature Conservancy image)

Darrington Collaborative

The Darrington Collaborative was established in 2015 in the rural timber town of Darrington in Northwest Washington. It has a 10-member board made up of diverse perspectives, including representatives from Washington Wild, Hampton Lumber, American Whitewater, and the Glacier Peak Institute. The shared goal is to increase sustainable timber harvests while improving the ecological function of forests and watersheds in the Darrington Ranger District of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

“The Darrington Collaborative has been a unique and rewarding experience for the community of Darrington to build trust with industry, environmentalists and local leaders to provide economic benefits to our community through sustainable logging, forest restoration, and education,” Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin said.

Prior to the creation DNR’s grant programs, the Darrington Collaborative was focusing on small projects to help build shared understanding about different management approaches. Now, with nearly $125,000 from the DNR grants, and a $25,000 match from Hampton Lumber, it is moving on to a project covering 30,000 acres around the Darrington Ranger District.

This project will gather the technical information necessary for forest health treatments that enhance old growth characteristics, thin overstocked second-growth stands, and improve roads and aquatic conditions. This investment will expand the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to get work done in the forest, accelerating the timeline for treatments in this area by more than a year.

Glacier Peak Institute will lead a team of Darrington High School students to collect and analyze data so the collaborative can monitor the ecological impact of the project.

Local companies will benefit from contracting restoration work and from timber harvests in the thinned second-growth stands. The surrounding community will benefit from additional recreational opportunities, and wildlife dependent on old growth forests will benefit from improved habitat conditions.

Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition

Located in the Wenatchee River watershed near Leavenworth, the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition is primarily focused on the problem of severe wildfires. Identified by multiple analyses as one of the highest-risk wildfire areas in the state, the forested landscape around Leavenworth is scattered with private homes.

Like many areas east of the Cascades, historically frequent, low-intensity fires were an essential part of healthy forests. A century of fire suppression, however, has created dangerous buildup of low-value woody debris. Prescribed, or controlled, burning and other tools can reduce those combustible materials and get the forest back to a healthy balance, but prescribed fire can also be challenging to implement, especially across different landownerships.

In Leavenworth, this problem is compounded by the fact that the burn season is short at such a high altitude. Long winters and long fire seasons allow only about six weeks in the fall and six weeks in the spring to conduct prescribed burns.

“There is just no way to get rid of enough fuels right now, with the lack of nearby timber mills and restrictions such as the local apple maggot quarantine area” said Corrine Hoffman, director of the coalition. “Removing fuels is a huge challenge in the Leavenworth area.”

Tree farmer Ross Frank, former chair of the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition, talks to members of The Nature Conservancy in June at the Red-Tail Canyon Farm in Leavenworth. The Chumstick coalition facilitated the meeting, allowing members of The Nature Conservancy to meet potential forest health partners in Washington state. (The Nature Conservancy photo)

Like many large problems, the solution requires an all-hands-on-deck approach for treating forested landscapes. Joining with federal and private forest landowners, Chelan County Fire District 3, Chelan County, The Nature Conservancy, and others, the Chumstick coalition has a two-pronged approach: public outreach and direct landowner assistance.

About $125,000 in DNR grant funding is empowering the coalition to not only expand these activities, but plan and carry out a larger project that coordinates treatment across private and public land. The coalition will work with landowners to assess their properties and apply necessary forest health treatments while working with the Forest Service, which will do its own treatment on land adjacent to these properties.

Strategically investing in a large, cross-boundary project, rather than one-off projects that exclude the surrounding property, creates a continuous landscape of resilient forests.

Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition Director Corrine Hoffman, far left, and Mike Smith, a volunteer coordinator and firefighter with Chelan County Fire District 3, talk to elementary school students about wildfire and its effects on forest ecosystems during the Wenatchee River Salmon Festival last summer in Leavenworth. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

Northeast Washington Forest Coalition

The Northeast Washington Forest Coalition has raised the bar for forest collaboratives everywhere since it started working on forest restoration on Forest Service land in 2002. Despite having forests that produce less board-feet per acre than forests in other parts of the state, Colville National Forest in Northeast Washington has become the largest timber-producing forest in the region, largely thanks to the work of this coalition. The coalition also restores and protects important wildlife habitat, thins forests to reduce the risk of uncharacteristically large wildfires, and produces stands of trees that are larger, healthier, and more in line with historical conditions.

Formed in 2002, the coalition includes diverse interests such as Vaagan Brothers Lumber, Sustainable Obtainable Solutions, Resolute Forest Products, the Kalispel Tribe, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Avista Corporation, Conservation Northwest, and The Lands Council, as well as consultants working in private forests, wildlands safety, and forest biomass. Technical advisers provide important insights and connections with even more diverse groups and interests.

Previously, the coalition’s projects have focused on the Colville National Forest. Now it is starting a new project, called Sxwuytn (s-who-ee-tin), the Kalispel Salish word for connections or trail, in a 90,000-acre planning area that includes a checkerboard of land controlled by the Forest Service, the Kalispel Tribe, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, DNR, and private landowners.

“We at NEWFC are thrilled that our Washington state legislators and the Department of Natural Resources have tackled the issues of forest health, restoration and resilience head-on,” said Gloria Flora, Executive Director of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions. “They’re using science, planning and supporting our on-the-ground action to increase the pace and scale of restoration across all lands. That shows real leadership and allows us to help our forests and communities even more effectively.”

This project is uniquely suited for the collaborative to take on – with a combined $425,000 from DNR’s two grant programs, the Northeast Washington Forest Coalition is engaging in and coordinating public outreach, connecting with a wide range of landowners, and building broader community support for forest management and restoration through involvement and education.

Grant funding also supports surveying forest roads, analyzing aquatic conditions, and accelerating the planning process. The Sxwuytn Project takes the planning process to a new level by inviting the public to help plan and prioritize a menu of treatments that all landowners and managers can select from to create a mosaic of forest restoration treatments across all landscapes.

Forest collaboratives: a Pacific Northwest institution

Forest collaboratives are not new to the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1990s, forest collaboratives started to form as an alternative to the litigation-heavy timber wars that pitted environmental advocates and endangered species against timber companies and rural jobs.

However, growing challenges with catastrophic wildfire, drought, and disease have made the need for collaborating on and implementing forest restoration more urgent.

Forest collaboratives don’t just address conflict, they leverage additional knowledge and resources into forest management while respecting the different values that forests provide. They also create a forum for addressing forest issues on a larger, connected landscape rather than focusing on individual tracts of property.

Want to learn more or get involved? Visit washingtonforestcollaboratives.org.

Categories: Partner Feeds

The inclusion gap: Building barriers to break them with the Women in the Woods

WA DNR News - December 24, 2018 - 10:17am

After hiking in the rain on a cold Saturday morning, 12 women came to what looked like a fork in the Douglas Fir Trail of DNR’s Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area. So they dropped their packs, but they weren’t there to rest —  they were there to work.

“We’re going to be really defining the trail,” said Mountains To Sound Greenway Trust Volunteer Program Coordinator Caroline Villanova. “To make sure people know where they’re going, they’re not getting lost, not going down a decommissioned road, and they know clearly the trail they are on.”

Villanova explains hugelkultur mounds. It’s an agricultural technique where mounds are constructed from woody debris, organic materials like leaves, and rich soil.

The sight of yellow hardhats and swinging pickaxes isn’t unusual along the trail. Thousands of volunteers graciously dedicate their time to maintaining and fixing up trails like ones in the Mount Si NRCA.

What’s different about this one? It’s a step in the right direction to bridging the inclusion gap in outdoor recreation.

Nearly 10 years ago, a Mountains To Sound Greenway Trust staff member saw the need for spaces for women who wanted to do trail work. So they created Women in the Woods,  supportive, year-round events for anyone who identifies as a woman and wants to use a power tool out in the woods.

Maria Sheldon, Greenway Trust Education Associate, uses a pickax to dig a trench.

Zan McPherson, Greenway Trust Volunteer Program Associate, and Maria Sheldon, Greenway Trust Education Associate, were both out on the Douglas Trail as part of the all-female leadership.

“I love the all-women space,” said McPherson. “It’s important, and personally feel so much more empowered as a leader in a group of all women.”

Sheldon continued, “Zan and I, being leaders, we get the opportunity to share what we know but also learn, and not only does this empower women but people who are trying to get more experience, and so we get a variety of trail maintenance experience [from people during events], and we get to learn from people as well.”

Volunteers complete the hugelkultur mounds by transplanting ferns.

Along with Villanova, McPherson and Sheldon coached volunteers on the task at hand: building hugelkultur mounds. It’s an agricultural technique where mounds are constructed from woody debris, organic materials like leaves, and rich soil.  Together, it creates an egg yolk of nutrients that will help the forest floor to form and allow more native plants to grow. Also, the mounds and the plants clearly divert hikers away from the wrong path.

It took six hours of digging around for good soil, moving rocks, and sawing fallen logs to complete. Stepping back to see what they accomplished, the volunteers took away more than just the satisfaction of a hard day’s work.

The group celebrates completing their work at the Little Si trailhead.

“We have people who come together who don’t even know each other while working on the trail together and problem solving,” Villanova said. “I can see people getting to know each other more, making jokes, laughing, and all of sudden we end the event and everyone is friends. We’re closer, like physically, we can hang out. Clearly a community has formed around Women in the Woods.”

  • Learn about future Women in the Woods event here
  • Volunteer with a DNR work party here
Categories: Partner Feeds

New App Enlists Smart Phone Users in Keeping Puget Sound Clean

WA DNR News - December 20, 2018 - 2:15pm
Your smart phone can now help clean up Puget Sound.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today announced the launch of MyCoast Washington – a mobile app that allows the public to help identify and remove marine debris. The app allows people to photograph large marine debris, creosote-treated wood, derelict vessels, storm surge damage, king tides and changes to shorelines while walking Washington’s beaches. DNR and its partners will then use that information to prioritize clean-ups and inform management of aquatic lands in a changing climate. DNR is a state leader in restoring marine environments. Since 2002, DNR has removed more than 50 million pounds of marine debris – the equivalent of 72 Boeing 747’s – from Washington’s waterways. Creosote-treated materials leach chemicals into beach and marine sediments causing toxic conditions for organisms that live in and use these areas.

But with only three full-time employees spearheading the work, the agency needs assistance in identifying debris that is polluting our waters around the state. “Now more than ever, it is our duty to safeguard Washington’s waters and beaches from toxins and pollutants,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “The MyCoast app allows all Washingtonians to participate in protecting our waters, ensuring our people, salmon, and orcas have clean, healthy habitat. We’re working to speed up our efforts to restore Puget Sound, and this app lets anyone who cares about Puget Sound’s health join in.” Washington MyCoast is a project of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological SurveyWashington Sea Grant, the Snohomish County Marine Resource Committee, and the Northwest Straits Initiative. HOW IT WORKS                                                            Anyone who spots creosote, old docks, floats, or other marine debris on the beach can simply take a picture in the MyCoast app, and that geo-located photo will go directly to the DNR Marine Debris Removal Program, letting them know what was spotted and where it is. Residents can also use the MyCoast Washington app to contribute to ongoing shoreline research and monitoring by documenting areas where storm surge or king tide events have changed shorelines. The app is available for the iPhone from the Apple App Store or for Android phones from Google Play. ACCELERATING CLEANUP EFFORTS Under the guidance of Commissioner Franz, DNR is committed to restoring development-damaged aquatic lands and access to rivers cut off by barriers to fish passage. Removing creosote treated logs from Puget Sound beaches is one of the several tasks that Washington Conservation Corps do each year. Photo: DNR

As part of that commitment, the agency is asking Washington’s legislature for a $90 million funding package to protect and restore aquatic habitats to boost salmon and orca recovery efforts. This package funds direct implementation of expanded restoration efforts, one of several actions recommended by the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task to boost orca habitat, as well as action items identified by the Puget Sound Partnership and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. STEWARDSHIP OF STATE AQUATIC LANDS As steward of 2.6 million acres of public aquatic lands, DNR manages the bedlands under Puget Sound and the coast, many of Washington’s beaches, and natural lakes and navigable rivers. DNR manages these lands to facilitate navigation, commerce, and public access, and to ensure protection of aquatic habitat. Since 2004, DNR has partnered with entities such as Marine Resources Committees (MRC), WSU BeachWatchers, People for Puget Sound, Washington State Parks, The Nature Conservancy, and the Northwest Straits Commission, to identify and remove creosote-treated debris.

Categories: Partner Feeds

Worried about storm power outages?

WA DNR News - December 17, 2018 - 12:29pm
Wind with drenching rains can create hazardous trees. Photo: DNR

Recent blasts of wind in Washington helps us appreciate the work of local utilities. They help our homes stay warm and toasty and keep the lights on during these darkening days of December.

Yet, as our annual storm season once again rolls in, it becomes more challenging to ensure the reliability of the power grid.

Storms bring high winds, high winds can bring down trees, and trees can bring down powerlines (like dominoes gone wrong).

Utility companies play a lead role in the prevention of power outages, but they can’t do it alone. We have three ideas on how you can help.

As responsible citizens, we need to monitor our trees for potential conflicts with powerlines and report any issues to the local utility…preferably before the next storm strikes.

Also, the best way to prevent future tree-related outages is by planting the right tree in the right place. Avoid planting a tree that will grow high enough to get into nearby powerlines as it matures.

By planting smaller trees, or by planting larger trees a safe distance away from powerlines, we can prevent problems before they happen. This practice can also reduce or eliminate the need to prune trees, and reduces you chance of a power outage.

DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry Program recognizes utilities in Washington who have committed to healthy tree care and maintenance, tree worker training programs, and community tree planting – including ways to reduce issues between trees and powerline. The Tree Line USA Program provides many benefits to electric utility providers and the communities they serve. It’s an Arbor Day Foundation Program that recognizes best practices in public and private utility arboriculture.

There are 11 recognized Tree Line USA Utilities in Washington:

  • Avista Utilities
  • Benton County PUD
  • Benton REA
  • Chelan County PUD #1
  • Clark County PUD
  • Pacificorp
  • Puget Sound Energy
  • Richland Energy Services
  • Seattle City Light
  • Snohomish County PUD No. 1
  • Tacoma Power

Since it’s better to be safe (and warm) than sorry, do these three things to show your appreciation for both the twinkle of outdoor holiday lights and the equally lovely trees they rest on. Take a moment to check for tree/powerline conflicts where you live, and contact your local utility if necessary. Plant the right tree in the right place. And, encourage, or congratulate, your utility provider’s participation in the Tree Line USA Program.

For more information, visit the Arbor Day website or DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Categories: Partner Feeds

DNR, veterans organization help homeowner improve wildfire safety

WA DNR News - December 12, 2018 - 10:34am

When Chris Mastel was in the Marines, he had a sense of purpose every day, a clear mission to accomplish. It was something he missed when his time in the military ended.

“As soon as I got out – not having a purpose, no mission every day – it was a struggle for me,” said Mastel, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years.

Mastel’s councilor at the local veteran’s center recommended he check out Veterans Community Response, a nonprofit organization based in the Spokane area that helps veterans adjust to life after returning home from combat. Comprised entirely of volunteers, the organization fosters teamwork and camaraderie and helps veterans develop skills in a variety of areas – even in helping rural homeowners reduce wildfire risk on their property.

Investing in forest health, wildfire safety

Some members of Veterans Community Response are firefighters in the area so they were aware of the severity of the wildfire threat and saw an opportunity to help reduce that threat. About a year ago, Veterans Community Response contacted the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to find out how they could help. The veterans took wildfire chainsaw training and forest health classes covering tree identification, tree health, and forest thinning practices. They also learned of small forest landowners who needed help with forest restoration work.

One of those landowners was Dave Taskila who owns about 6 acres of heavily vegetated forest in the Spokane area, dense with lodge pole pine and ponderosa thickets.

“This area had burnt in 1991 – before we bought the land – in a firestorm, so I figured it would happen again,”he said.

Taskila knew he should get his house and the surrounding land assessed for wildfire risk and applied to DNR’s cost-sharing program for small-forest landowners. The program is typically a 50/50 cost-share to help landowners complete forest health work on their property. The landowner can hire someone to do the work and DNR will pay half of the fee, or the landowner can do the work themselves and be reimbursed for half the value of their labor.

Veterans Community Response volunteers remove brush, low limbs, and smaller trees to restore forest health and reduce wildfire risk in the Four Mound community of Spokane County on May 5, 2018 – National Wildfire Preparedness Day. The nonprofit tackled this project after working on Dave Taskila’s land.

This program is a valuable tool for DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, which aims to actively manage our forests, restoring them to a more natural and resilient condition.

After Taskila was accepted into the program, a forester came to his home, assessed his trees, and showed him what needed done to bring his forest to a healthier, more resilient state. The grant he received required that he finish the work within two years.

Taskila didn’t do much the first year, because he didn’t think the project would be that difficult – that is until he and his grandson started thinning trees and clearing brush. What they found was closely bunched trees and dense understory. He was about halfway through the project when he learned volunteers from Veterans Community Response could help him finish his project before the approaching deadline.

The project on Taskila’s land was the first forest health and fuels reduction project Veterans Community Response worked on, and it was the ideal site to start with because it was close to town while still being very overgrown.

“This property had not been thinned in quite some time and it was a thicket of pine. Nothing was growing in a healthy manner,” the organization’s president, Darrin Coldiron, said.

About 20 volunteers worked to thin the remaining 3 acres, with usually about six veterans working each day. The project took about a month to finish.

When the veterans finished the project within the timeline allocated by the grant, Taskila was extremely pleased with the work accomplished. “They ended up doing the worst part of the property. Even though it’s flat down there, it was really bad and thick,” he said.

Taskila donated his DNR cost-share money to the nonprofit in appreciation of their labor, allowing the organization to pay for more equipment, protective gear, and training, plus member retreats and recruiting.

Veterans Community Response is working on six similar forest health projects. It’s the type of collaboration that Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who heads DNR, speaks about the state needing.

“With creative and collaborative approaches we can restore the health to our forests and reduce wildfire risk, keeping the Evergreen State true to its name,” Franz said. “I am proud of the important work being done by our veterans, our small forest landowners, DNR, and other partners.”

For the veterans, the rewards are close to home. Not only are they giving back to their community in ways that have the power to prevent a devastating wildfire, they’re also able to pass that sense of achievement onto new members.

Volunteers take a well-deserved break from thinning and brush removal during a project in the Four Mound area in May.

“We’re getting veterans back involved in the community,” said Mike Patterson, a veteran and member of the nonprofit. “Most combat vets tend to isolate when they come home, so this is a great way of getting them back involved and completing a project.”

Mastel, the Marine vet, attended a retreat put on by the nonprofit and found that sense of purpose he was searching for after retiring from the military. He decided to join the staff and devote some of his time to helping the organization with events and projects. He was one of the project leads on Taskila’s land and was pleased with the work he and the group accomplished.

“I had no idea what we were in for, but when we finished it looked amazing,” Mastel said.

And all of this work means all the more when community members like Taskila are so positively affected by the nonprofit’s work and happy with the final result.

“I can actually use some of (my land) and walk through it,” Taskila said, laughing. “It turned out great, I’m pleased.”

Categories: Partner Feeds

State Timber Harvests Are Each as Unique as the Names They Go By

WA DNR News - December 7, 2018 - 2:22pm

Brokedown Place. Jumping Jack. Goldfish. Silver Charm. Camp Draper.

Evocative? Yes. Unique? Definitely. And just like their unique names, the state-land timber harvests managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources get individualized pre-auction assessments.

DNR’s primary reason for growing forests on state trust lands is to provide a quality timber harvest opportunity capable of generating funds for public beneficiaries, primarily schools. Timber harvests have generated nearly $900 million for beneficiaries over the past five years.

“Timber sales are a vital part of how we’re able to support schools and local governments throughout Washington,” says Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the elected official who leads the Department of Natural Resources. “Just like each school and community has unique needs, these harvests receive individualized approaches to make them sustainable and environmentally sound — and they come with creative names that reflect that approach.”

Before a timber harvest is offered for sale, state foresters make a series of assessments. They review data and make site visits asking things like… Where are the streams and wetlands located? What are the potential effects of this harvest on water quality? How will the harvest affect fish and wildlife habitat? Are there nearby slopes that require a geologic assessment? Are there other areas that will require special attention?

As DNR foresters make these assessments they commonly find areas that do need special consideration. They use this information to create a set prescriptions, or rules, that a timber harvest company will have to abide by if they submit the winning bid to log the land. It’s at this point that the timber harvest gets its distinctive name, often inspired by the land itself. Ram’s Horn. Ninebark. Summer Breeze.

If a harvest has too many special requirements, timber companies will be more hesitant to bid for harvesting rights. This may lead to a lower bid and result in less revenue for schools and public services. This situation could also leave DNR exposed to legal action for failing to meet its legal mandate to generate that revenue. Alternatively, a harvest with too few restrictions could fail to adequately protect public lands and unnecessarily damaging public lands for years to come.

That’s why the proposed harvest, including the requirements a timber harvest company will need to meet, are reviewed in a transparent process after the assessment is complete. Proposed harvests go through a public comment process, called SEPA (an abbreviation for the State Environmental Policy Act, which created the procedure), designed to ferret out any site-specific environmental concerns that may have been missed initially. Then, the proposed harvest goes to the Board of Natural Resources, which is comprised of industry and beneficiary stakeholders. The public is invited to attend and provide comments at their public meeting, where the board then decides if the proposed harvest is approved for sale.

The process takes time – normally one to two years.

Only after these steps, and with full knowledge of all the requirements, do timber harvest companies get the opportunity to bid on a timber harvest. The highest offer — the bid that will generate the highest revenue for the public beneficiaries — wins.

So what are the possible prescription restrictions that a harvest company may have to abide by? They run can be anything from stream buffers, to trees that must remain or the mix of trees to replant, to how and when the harvest should be done.

Timing timber harvests to the seasons

Timber harvests can be restricted to the drier summer months in areas where runoff may be a special concern. Alternately, colder areas at higher altitudes may benefit from a winter harvest, when the ground is frozen or protected by a layer of snow.

Based on the site conditions, DNR may also set the harvesting system that companies can use. Some systems have advantages protecting soil, water, fish, amphibians or wildlife in given situations.

Harvest systems matched to meet the need

Ground-based harvesting systems are typically used on state trust lands with less extreme terrain, on soils not easily compacted and in areas with good road access. Look for them in flat areas and on slopes of less than 35 percent in Western Washington and less than 50 percent in Eastern Washington. These operations may be combined with rubber tire skidders, tracked skidders or shovels to achieve desired protection objectives.

Rubber tire skidders are used to push or pull logs distances of up to 700 feet in Western Washington and 1,300 feet in Eastern Washington. They can disturb and compact soils, so use is generally limited to non-sensitive areas. Tracked skidders, or “dozers,” perform many different jobs on a logging site. They can pull large loads of logs, operate on moderate slopes and work in softer soils with less compaction. Shovels are a versatile piece of equipment that put less pressure on the ground than skidders. You may see these operated around riparian areas, trees not being harvested, and across uneven surfaces with stumps, boulders and heavy brush. Shovels can also be used for site preparation, road construction and installing culverts. A fully mechanized harvesting system is another option that compacts the ground less than skidders. This system performs the entire harvest process, such as cutting, forwarding and bucking.

Cable systems partially or completely suspend logs moving them to landing zones up to 1,000 feet away. Because cable systems require special crews, they’re more expensive and are generally only required when ground-based systems can’t be used. Look for them on state trust lands with slopes greater than 35 percent, areas with broken topography, or wet or easily compacted soils.

Helicopter logging may be the only option in areas where road construction would be too expensive or would adversely affect an environmentally sensitive feature. Look for it on slopes steeper than 40 percent, though it’s not common, because it’s so expensive.

Regardless of the system, state land harvests require harvesters to work where they will disturb less soil, which can cause erosion and soil compaction while making it harder for trees to re-establish. To ensure this happens, DNR has timber harvest companies plan their skid trails in advance and mark the approved areas clearly.

Regenerating forests, regenerating value

Prior to a harvest being completed, DNR silviculturists make a plan to replant the working forest, accounting for myriad factors, including elevation, aspect and seed zone.

The silviculturists start with information gathered during DNR foresters’ environmental assessments before the timber harvest, and account for any adverse conditions at the site, such as the presence of laminated root rot or pests like the spruce weevil.

Then, silviculturists focus in on the details of the site. Generally, sites below 2,000 feet in elevation are more fertile than higher-elevation sites, so the planted seedlings will face competition from other plant species. Using information from reforesting similar sites, silviculturists decide whether a site preparation treatment will be necessary. The treatments control competition from both native and invasive species, giving the seedlings a better chance to establish themselves. At higher elevations, those treatments are less likely to be necessary. Depending on the site’s aspect (which direction the slope faces), different trees may be more likely to thrive.

Another important factor in replanting is using seedlings from the same tree zone as the harvest. Knowing the origin of a seed is crucial to determining where the tree will survive and grow successfully because of different environmental and climate differences. Native conifers in the Pacific Northwest have some of the highest levels of genetic variation found in plants.

After preparing the site after the harvest, foresters come in the next spring and repopulate the forest with seedlings selected specifically for that area. At lower elevations, about 300 Douglas-fir and 100 western red cedars are planted per acre; at higher elevations, about 300 Douglas-fir and 60 western redcedars are used.

“When you plant, you control the stocking, what’s growing there and how far apart it’s spaced,” says Cory McDonald, a forester in DNR’s Northwest region.

Some other native tree species are also introduced at the time to increase biodiversity, and foresters working at higher elevations also allow for natural repopulation of the forest. Douglas-firs and western redcedars are planted because they have the best return on financial investment to fulfill DNR’s obligation to generate money for its beneficiaries, like public schools and local governments.

“In order to have trees for the future, we have to have prompt reforestation with healthy, vigorous trees, that’s the biggest thing,” McDonald says. “If we just didn’t plant, there would be a lag time before the stand became naturally reforested. It would happen over time, but it wouldn’t be as quick, and that’s tougher to manage because you don’t have the certainty over the timing.”

The minimum amount of trees to replant after a timber harvest on state or private lands in Washington is 190 trees per acre, though most landowners plant far more than that so they have a bigger yield to harvest.

DNR has a nursery where it grows many of its trees for replanting from seed, a process that takes two years before trees are ready to be planted. That means foresters need to estimate years ahead what they will need to properly re-establish our working forests.

Harvest frequency

There’s no general rule for knowing when a landscape will be ready to harvest. Different species grow at different rates. Conditions can vary from one hillside to another. Droughts can last have a significant influence. The agency’s general approach, however, is to harvest trees once their growth rate slows, for the best return on the public’s investment.

When DNR prepares a harvest auction, it considers the surrounding area, too. Weighing factors include the maturity and size of trees on adjacent land, along with the size of the harvest area itself. Timber harvests are generally limited to 100 acres, though may be up to 120 acres in special situations. They also must border areas where trees have not been recently harvested – either adjacent to 30 percent mature forest, 60 percent young forest or 90 percent newer forest with trees growing there more than 5 years. The result is a landscape with trees of various sizes. The habitat is varied and no single watershed is too heavily affected within a short timeframe.

Accommodations for recreation

Many state forest lands are also prime areas for recreation. The agency retains a no-harvest buffer around its campgrounds, but with 1,500 miles of trail on DNR-managed lands, it’s inevitable that timber harvests affect trails.

DNR Forester John Moon with one of the trees that DNR identified as one to exclude from the Pathfinder Timber Sale in 2017 in Reiter Foothills State Forest for its importance to the local 4×4 community. (DNR photo)

When a trail traverses a harvest, it is closed temporarily while the harvest completed to protect public safety. After the harvest, the DNR and volunteers clean up and reopen the trail.

Some consider newly harvested areas less attractive than mature forest. As an accommodation, the agency may locate the harvest’s leave trees along trails or roads to provide a visual barrier. However, timber harvests can also provide an unexpected benefit: enhanced views.

Special landscapes get special protections

Not every landscape is appropriate for timber harvests. In addition to potentially unstable slopes, DNR also will not harvest at the state’s most precious ecological areas as a part of the natural areas program. In addition, uncommon habitats such as talus fields, caves, cliffs, oak woodlands, areas bald of vegetation, mineral springs and large mature (“old growth”) forests are excluded from harvest areas.

Areas are also excluded when they provide important habitat for endangered or threatened plant or animal species, such as the spotted owl or marbled murrelet.

All told, approximately one-third of the state lands managed by DNR are not harvested for timber.

Protecting and sustaining people, too

DNR is a founding member of the Logger Safety Initiative, which promotes occupational safety in the logging industry. Logging is historically one of Washington’s most hazardous industries — one where workers, particularly in non-mechanized logging jobs, suffer serious injuries much more often than in any other major industry while employers struggle to afford accelerating workers’ compensation insurance costs.

In response, DNR, private land owners, logging industry employers and the Department of Labor & Industries formed the Washington State Logger Safety Initiative. The agency continues as an active landowner member of this broad-based effort to promote occupational safety, reduce fatalities, and decrease the frequency and severity of workplace injuries in the logging industry. DNR also works to include companies logging on state lands as participating members.

Sustainable forests

DNR has also achieved multiple sustainable landowner certifications. Certified forests are grown to an approved set of standards, which demonstrate environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management practices that promote responsible forestry. The agency aims to exceed best management practices, and it goes through a rigorous third-party audit of its practices every two years to identify any areas in need of improvement.

These certifications are good for harvest companies, too. Timber harvested from state lands can able to demand higher prices in the marketplace due to its FSC or SFI sustainable certification status. This, in turn, means harvest companies are willing to bid more, providing greater revenue to schools and other beneficiaries.

Case-by-case assessments and care are a big part of how DNR ensures both economically viable and environmentally sound timber harvests on DNR-managed state trust lands. Doing so protects waterways, fish, wildlife, public resources, recreation and the forest’s ability to continue growing timber (a sustainable source of revenue) for public beneficiaries in perpetuity.

The one-of-a-kind names? Well, that part’s mostly just for fun.

Categories: Partner Feeds

Winter Warriors: Adventures Awaits Along This Hut-To-Hut Trail System

WA DNR News - December 6, 2018 - 1:19pm

Imagine standing at 4,700-feet overlooking a hilly, snow-dusted treeline with a view of Mount Rainier and getting some of the best powder you’ve ever seen.

But the thing is, you don’t have to daydream about it – because you can go there. Tucked away in our Tahoma State Forest awaits three huts and a yurt dotting a trail system. And it’s only a two hour drive from the Greater Seattle Area.

Here’s the hut-to-hut breakdown.

HIGH HUT

  • Elevation: 4,760 feet
  • Gain: 2,400 feet
  • Miles to hut: 4
  • Sleeping capacity: 8 people
  • Find a trail map here
High hut. Image: DNR

SNOW BOWL

  • Elevation: 4, 250 feet
  • Gain: 2,000 feet
  • Miles to hut: 4
  • Sleeping capacity: 14 people
  • Find a trail map here
Bruni’s Snow Bowl. Image: MTTA

COPPER CREEK

  • Elevation: 4,200 feet
  • Gain: 2,400 feet
  • Miles: 4
  • Sleeping capacity: 14 people
  • Only accessible in winter in respect
    to conservation efforts
  • Find a trail map here
Copper Creek Hut. Image: MTTA

THE YURT

The Yurt. Image: MTTA So you want to go? Here’s what to know

HUT AMENITIES: Each hut provides a stovetop, pots to melt snow for water, bunk beds, kitchen essentials, a fireplace, and an outside bathroom.

WHAT TO BRING: Bring the Ten Essentials! Don’t forget your Discover Pass and sno-park permit. Find a trail map here.

ETIQUETTE: Snowshoers should stay to the side to preserve the groomed trails
for skiers. You may be sharing the huts with other groups, so be respectful and practice Leave No Trace principles.

RESERVATIONS: The huts are free to use from 7 a.m. – p.m.. An annual gala is held every November, which includes a lottery for first-round reservations. Beginning in late-November, the website opens all remaining spots for reservation. The huts are always full on weekends, but weekdays often have openings, and you can check back regularly for weekend cancellations. For more information, visit skimtta.org.

DIRECTIONS TO TRAILHEAD: The location of the 1 Road Sno-Park moves depending on the snow level. If there is a lot of snow and the gate to the upper area is locked, then use the lower Sno-park at 2,360 feet elevation. If there is less snow and the gate to the upper area is open, then head farther up the road to the Upper 1 Road Sno-Park at 3,000-feet elevation.

The location of the 1 Road Sno-Park moves depending on the snow level. If there is a lot of snow and the gate to the upper area is locked, then use the lower Sno-park at 2,360 feet elevation. If there is less snow and the gate to the upper area is open, then head farther up the road to the Upper 1 Road Sno-Park at 3,000-feet elevation.

How long have the huts been there? Who are the people behind this trail? What makes the huts different than others in the northwest? 

Looking for a conversation starter with your group on the trail? Read about how this all came together. You may discover that you love the story of how this trail system came together as much as you love the trail system itself. Story first published in Mountaineer Magazine

The view of Elbe and Tahoma State Forests as seen from what is now the High Hut. Building a hut system

On a winter day in 1989, Bob Brown’s mind was wandering as he explored Mount Rainier’s Paradise area during a backcountry ski. A Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest manager, Bob had recently read about hut-to-hut skiing trail systems. European-inspired, hut-based backcountry skiing took off in America nearly a century before his trip that day, and while hut systems were available in Eastern Washington, none had been built on the western side of the Cascades. Not yet that is.

“I thought, gee, [a hut system] would be sort of neat [in Western Washington]. And then I thought, gee, all the roads – on both the DNR land and private timber company land,
and even some forest service land – are all snow covered in the winter. So there’s ready-made trail. And you have landings, which are cleared areas, where you can build huts
on and they would have views.”

Bob called a meeting between DNR, Washington State Parks, and the Forest Service about opening a new hut-to-hut skiing trail in the Tahoma State Forests. They sent out 1,500
questionnaires to measure public interest. Only two people didn’t like the idea.

The group established Mount Tahoma Trail Association (MTTA) in 1989 as a nonprofit and started fundraising. The state gave $160,000 — money pitched by a state senator who later said the funds were the best he’s ever allocated because of how well they were used. Other contributions came from grassroots fundraising efforts and in-kind work- hours by volunteers.

By fall, MTTA was working on building the High Hut. Its completion in 1990 was followed by Snow Bowl Hut, Copper Creek Hut, and The Yurt in 1991.

The view of Mount Rainier from the High Hut.

For three decades, volunteers donated more than 4,000 hours every year to operate and maintain the huts and trails, doing everything from work parties to weekend ski patrols. This allows MTTA to be a 100% volunteer-run organization, which means every penny donated or raised goes directly back into operating the facilities.

“If you come up with a good idea, then there’s a chance it might turn into something. But the [credit goes to] all the talented people who get excited about this thing and pour their heart and soul into it and make it work,” Bob said.

‘Ready-made’ trails in our working forests

When you ski or snowshoe from the lower sno-park near Ashford, it’s not long before a sign welcomes you into in the heart of a working forest. As part of Washington’s three million acres of federally-granted state trust lands, Tahoma State Forests are managed by the Washington DNR and are legally obligated to provide an array of benefits to Washington residents. Priority is placed on perpetually generating revenue to support public institutions, like funding construction of schools, namely through timber harvests.

Timber harvesting techniques have come a long way over the last century, which had previously left this land nearly barren. DNR and partnering conservation groups have worked together to revitalize the area, returning it to a resilient, productive working forest to sustain healthy and diverse habitats.

“When Snow Bowl Hut was built, there was a big open clear cut in front of it, and people would ski in that clear cut…and you can’t ski in the clear cut anymore,” Bob said. “And the reason you can’t ski in that clear cut is because there’s too many trees.”

A snowshower looks out into the forest on the trail.

When the season turns to winter, logging truck roads go dormant in the snow. Utilizing these existing roads for recreation preserves nearby conservation areas while also offering a backcountry experience. The trail system also evolves and changes with timber production and forest growth. That’s why the trails fluctuate between 50 and 75 miles of terrain from season to season.

“I’m proud that my agency and our partners are able to manage the public’s lands in ways that protect our natural resources, provide millions of dollars for public services, and give us some of the most beautiful areas to explore,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, a skier who manages DNR. “The Tahoma State Forests are a great example of what our working forests can do for us, from timber harvests to recreational opportunities.”

Accessible and affordable

More than 100,000 people have stayed overnight at the huts since their inception in the 1990s, not counting the thousands of day users who’ve skied through the forest. But many still consider this trail system to be among Western Washington’s best kept secrets. Most people find out about it through word of mouth and the MTTA Communications Director was no exception. Like many of the organization’s 90 volunteers, Heath Jones was inspired by his first trip up to the huts to give back. He volunteered on ski patrol for several years, and now focuses on creating awareness and accessibility for both summer and winter users.

“Making it accessible is important, and making it fun for all ages, whether playing board games or having bachelor or bachelorette parties or things like that … getting more people to understand what the huts are capable of… I think is a huge,” Heath said.

For MTTA, accessibility means providing ongoing improvements to enhance experiences for all skill levels, and that includes adding to the trail system. As the forests and trails evolve, so do the huts. For example: once powered by screw-on propane bottles, the huts now run on solar.

The High Hut with Mount Rainier peeking around it.

These upgrades, intersecting with convenience and safety, are met with respect by the users who practice Leave No Trace principles.

“People come up and take a sense of pride in it,” Jones said. “They keep it pretty clean,
refill water, sweep up, and leave it for the next people, which is important because they’re all public use. From what I’ve seen people are pretty respectful of the property and the ability to go up and enjoy the view.”

Bob and Heath both agree that what really sets these huts apart from others in the United States is they are relatively affordable for everyone.

Categories: Partner Feeds

There’s Plenty of Places For You to Find Your Christmas Tree in Washington (But State Forests Aren’t One of Them)

WA DNR News - November 23, 2018 - 8:00am

Take it from us: Christmas is better with a Christmas tree.

(Even Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz weighed in on this last year.)

Please don’t take your tree from us, however. You’ll have to get one from somewhere besides a state forest, just like we do.

Because the trust lands under our supervision are needed to generate sustainable revenue while managed in an environmentally conscious way, we can’t have people cutting down our juvenile trees before they reach maturity. If we did, then there would be less money generated for schools, libraries, and other public services for the agencies that depend on us.

Instead, to generate solid returns for those public services, we have to wait until the trees in the forest have reached maturity before auctioning them for harvest.

However, there are plenty of places on federal lands for Washington residents to be able to cut their own Christmas trees, and there’s also many tree farms open for residents shopping across the state.

National Forests

Private tree farms

Here’s to hoping for a safe harvest, and a happy holiday season, too!

Categories: Partner Feeds

Is it burning season?

WA DNR News - November 21, 2018 - 12:35pm
Outdoor burning is a leading cause of wildfire ignitions, smoke and certain pollutants. Photo DNR

With slash piles around and the cold November rain right around the corner, it’s a perfect time of year for forest landowners to consider their outdoor burning needs of branches and bark left behind after thinning, pruning or harvesting forest trees.

So, to answer the question of is it burning season: Yes, but not if the air quality is poor in your area.

Fire danger is low once again here in Western Washington as summer fades away and temperatures cool down.

Burning slash now avoids the future risk of uncontrolled fire during the summer, and it reduces the potential for nuisance smoke later amid the cold winter air.

Burning can also reduce the number of insects harmful to the forest that overwinter in slash and create more open ground for forest regeneration, which can boost forest health.

Nearly all slash burning is done under permits issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These permits address how much can be burned, what equipment can be used and that attendance is mandatory on site during the burning. Other land-clearing burning typically falls under county permits. DNR also can deny burning if conditions could cause a fire to escape or if there is unhealthy air.

DNR fire personnel, county fire dispatch centers, and county fire marshals are notified daily of permitted burns.

Forest landowners are looking for those slightly breezy days ahead of or following a period of rain when there is upward movement in the air to help the fire burn hot and disperse the smoke high in the atmosphere.

Don’t be alarmed when you see columns of smoke or flames at night in the hills. Sometimes the amount of smoke or height of the flames may seem alarming and similar to what wildfires produce, but the outward spread of the slash fire is controlled during fall burning. A slash fire that burns hot and fast has more complete combustion and produces fewer pollutants than a slower-burning fire.

Always follow the Department of Ecology’s website (https://ecology.wa.gov/Air-Climate/Air-quality/Smoke-fire/Burn-bans) for air quality and burn ban information in your area.

Slash burns are usually completed and out within a week or two. If you do see smoke from a slash pile that continues to smolder for weeks, please call the forest landowner or your local DNR Region Office.

Categories: Partner Feeds

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