Landowners thin out forests to make them healthier


As wildfires continue to burn this summer, it’s all the more critical to recognize the importance of forest fuel reduction and more active management of our forests. Even a U.S. senator, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., recently highlighted a video from the Spokane Tribe on the tribe’s successful fuel reduction efforts.

The Nature Conservancy just held an open house on its land in Central Washington’s Kittitas County, on which the environmental group is selectively logging 310 acres to reduce the threat of wildfire. The land is part of 46,000 acres the group owns in the area.

The goal of the conservancy is to return that forestland to historical conditions, said Reese Lolley, director of forest restoration and fire for the Nature Conservancy.

“It’s going to be easier for a fire crew to control (a fire) here,” he said. “Even more so if we do a controlled burn.”

In the past, the forests predominately contained ponderosa pine, he said. But over the last 100 years, Douglas fir trees and grand fir have taken over.

…Mize said by thinning trees, the conservancy is reducing the chance of wildfires spreading.

“When forests are more clumpy, the fire might burn a patch, but it is harder to jump to the next patch,” he said.

So the conservancy is leaving the trees in random groups with large gaps between them, Mize said.

Also in Central Washington, homeowners and the Washington Department of Natural Resources are working together to make properties in Okanogan County more resistant to fire.

Many property owners in the area said they are getting more aggressive than ever before about creating that defensible space around their homes. State agencies like the Department of Natural Resources are also stepping up their efforts to thin out some of the fuels for the next time fire comes through.

Bill Betlach (has owned) property in the Twin Creeks area of Tunk Valley for 16 years. This is the first year he has worked with DNR to protect his little oasis from wildfire. He said watching 2015’s Tunk Block Fire, which eventually became part of the Okanogan Complex, was enough to spur him into action.

“It was amazing to see all the fire. Everything, everywhere you can see was burning,” Betlach said.

Since winter, he has been steadily thinning out over-crowded trees on his 60 acres and chopping off lower limbs that could help a small fire grow into a monster.

“The way I saw it sweep through. When the hot winds got going, and it was sweeping through the grass, and then the timber that was down lower to the ground, it would just jump onto those and then explode them,” said Betlach. “That’s another reason it gave me more incentive to get out there and do limbing.”