OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) plans to conduct controlled burns starting next month on parts of two wildlife areas in northeast and northcentral Washington to reduce wildfire risks and enhance wildlife habitat.
Depending on weather conditions, controlled burns could be conducted as early as Sept. 1 on parts of WDFW’s Sherman Creek Wildlife Area on the west side of Lake Roosevelt in northeastern Ferry County and at the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in northcentral Okanogan County.
After recent wildfires in Washington, WDFW Sinlahekin Wildlife Area Manager Dale Swedberg acknowledges that burning now may seem counterintuitive to some people.
“In fact, it’s more important now than ever,” he said. “Controlled burns reduce fuel loads and the risk of catastrophic, high-intensity wildfires that can destroy wildlife habitat. It’s not a question of whether we’ll have fires on these lands in the future, but whether they’re controlled. The low-intensity burning in a controlled fire can also improve forage and other habitat for deer, moose, black bear, forest grouse and many other wildlife species.”
Swedberg said the controlled burns will be coordinated by WDFW’s fire project manager Tom Leuschen, a former U.S. Forest Service fire manager. The fires are permitted by the Washington Department of Natural Resources only when daily conditions are safe and fires are monitored constantly until they are out.
The controlled burns – planned for September and October – will cover about 600 total acres, and will be conducted on parcels ranging from 15 acres to several hundred acres. Other burns will be conducted in coming spring and fall seasons.
“Where there’s fire, there’s smoke,” Leuschen said. “We will be working to minimize impacts, but smoke could make its way into some communities near these burns.”
Those towns include Kettle Falls and Colville near Sherman Creek, as well as Loomis and Conconully near Sinlahekin. Signs will be posted on the wildlife areas to alert recreationists about the projects. Motorists should use caution and watch for personnel, fire equipment, and smoke on the roads in the vicinity of the burns.
Swedberg noted that the department did not receive any complaints regarding smoke or disturbance from machinery in the Sinlahekin Valley last year when controlled burns on grasslands and timber thinning slash were conducted under the Sinlahekin’s ongoing Ecosystem Restoration Project.
Leuschen is coordinating resources with other agencies in the area to assist with the burning and is using private contractors with bulldozers and other equipment from local communities.
“We’ve been working closely with private, county, state and federal land managers to promote the use of prescribed fires, in a coordinated effort on all lands, to improve wildlife habitat and reduce wildfire fuels,” Swedberg said. “This year we’re extending our effort to Sherman Creek.”