A just-announced plan to improve the health of Washington’s dryside forests and reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to local communities may also help improve deer and elk habitat.
The Department of Natural Resources’ 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan aims to use a mix of restoration and prescribed burning on 1.25 million acres of state-owned land east of the Cascades, potentially opening up the woods and making them more productive for the kinds of plants ungulates eat.
And that could benefit those of us who like to hunt said big game on public land.
That’s not the main goal of the plan, which was rolled out today near Cle Elum, the Central Washington town threatened by this summer’s 57-square-mile Jolly Mountain Fire.
Because of long-term fire suppression and timber production, forests have become choked with fuels, while large-scale insect infestations in recent decades have made them even more prone to burn.
It’s a problem affecting not only state land but also federal and private ground — some 10 million acres are at risk — and Washington lawmakers have put increasing focus on the topic, especially following the massive wildfire seasons of 2014 and 2015.
The plan identifies goals and priority watersheds to work in, and while acknowledging that the loss of mills makes it tougher to apply treatments, it also aims to identify opportunities to help rural economies.
“We now have the plan and the partners necessary to treat our high risk forests with scientifically sound, landscape-scale, cross-boundary projects. With long-term partnerships and commitment we can begin to stem the severe damage from overgrowth, mismanagement, disease and intense wildfire that so many of our forests are experiencing,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, in a press release.
The strategy was crafted by DNR and WDFW, which own most if not all the state land in Eastern Washington, as well as federal agencies, several tribes, local forestry coalitions and collaboratives, mill operators, private timberland owners, NGOs, universities and others.