SPOKANE, Wash. – Eastern Washington forests could see a drastic improvement over the next 20 years.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources plans to increase prescribed, or controlled, burns as part of a greater plan to restore forests but it could also be helpful this wildfire season.
It all started with fire suppression at the turn of the 1900s.
Before humans began to fight wildfires in warm-dry forests, smaller trees were not as common and thick layers of needles were non-existent because natural fire had a way of eliminating the extra fuel.
Before fire suppression began, natural fire burned through local forests like Dishman Hills in Spokane Valley every 13 years or so.
"Our forests adapted to that frequent fire cycle," said Guy Gifford with DNR.
"These are Ponderosa Pine Trees and they are naturally resilient to fire," he continued as his hand grasped the branches of the trees at Dishman Hills. "They are what we call survivors. They are designed to survive wildfire and to live through it, but as we started putting out fires, we allowed more small trees like this to get in place here, and now what happens a lot of times is we have what are called 'ladder fuels.'"
"When wildfire comes through here it burns needles, grass, it starts these trees on fire, which will burn the whole tree down," Gifford said.
The trees at Dishman Hills in Spokane Valley have drastically changed over time as a result of fire suppression.
Many forests across Eastern Washington have seen a similar effect.
Now DNR has a 20-year plan to restore forests using tools like prescribed burning, thinning and logging.
The objective is to bring back what nature used to do on its own.
Gifford also said effects prescribed burning could be helpful come wildfire season since prescribed burning is also designed to decrease the intensity of wildfires by getting rid of extra fuel.