Wildfires that burned more than 116,000 acres in Central Washington did not kill forests. The knobcone pine and some lodgepole pine need fire to spread their seeds. And in Ponderosa pine forests, ground fire helps create a fertile seedbed.
YAKIMA — Weeks after thunderstorms rolled across the eastern Cascades, igniting one of the largest series of fires in state history, officials are turning to issues of long-term recovery.
And with a few exceptions, they are relying on Mother Nature to do most of the work.
Wildfires burned more than 116,000 acres in Central Washington. In some places the fire burned long and hot enough to change soil structure, reducing the land’s ability to hold rain or snow melt and increasing the danger of flooding.
To reduce that danger, community members working with the American Red Cross planted trees Saturday in an area that was badly burned in the Taylor Bridge fire in western Kittitas County. The vegetation should prevent erosion and flooding.
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Other areas, however, may not need the help. While the barren look of a severely burned area can appear shocking, the forest is still very much alive, experts say.
“Some (tree) species have evolved to burn completely and look black” as part of their life cycle, said David Ford, a University of Washington forest ecology professor.
The knobcone pine and some lodgepole pine need fire to spread their seeds. The heat melts resin in the pinecones, allowing the seeds to fall out. And in Central Washington’s Ponderosa pine forests, ground fire helps create a fertile seedbed for the trees, he said.
The important question, Ford says, is: Did the fire fit the forest?
For example, knobcone-pine and some lodgepole-pine forests have evolved to use crown fires — flames in the forest canopy — whereas Ponderosa-pine forests need fire on the forest floor.
For the most part, the fires of Central Washington this summer fit the forests, said Bill Ehinger, a hydrologist with the United States Forest Service.
This month, a Forest Service team that included Ehinger assessed imminent risks to people, property and cultural and natural resources created by fires in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. These included the Wenatchee complex, Yakima complex, Okanogan complex and Table Mountain.
The group, known as a Burned Area Emergency Response team, found more than 16,000 acres had been severely burned. But the team found few threats that demanded immediate response.
Based on its recommendations, the Forest Service on Friday approved $486,879 for post-fire emergency projects in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
The recommended projects include herbicide treatments next spring to protect against invasive weeds in the Wenatchee complex and hand-cutting trees killed in the Table Mountain fire to protect prehistoric archaeological sites.
The studies didn’t look at the Taylor Bridge fire because it swept across private land.