Washington Refuge Conducts Long-Term Fuels Reduction Project
Beginning in 2001, firefighters from the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge embarked on a multi-year project to reduce the unnatural accumulation of vegetation creating a fire hazard next to private property. A forest of mostly ponderosa pine trees with aspen groves and grasses and shrubs in the understory was being taken over by pine seedlings. The seedlings not only created a fire hazard by increasing the vulnerability of the larger trees, but also choked out native species which offer forage for wildlife living on the refuge.
The focus of the project was to reduce the amount of trees per acre to approximated historical levels and to enhance wildlife habitat by reinvigorating grass, forbs and shrub species. Refuge personnel also hoped to stimulate aspen growth. This low-elevation area is prime wintering ground for white-tailed deer and very popular for hunting deer and turkeys.
As part of the project, 720 acres were thinned and burned directly adjacent to about three miles of private property. In places with larger understory trees, commercial thinning was done, producing more than 563,000 board feet of timber and 769 tons of pulpwood. Where small trees dominated, crews thinned and piled the debris by hand, which was burned during the spring and fall over a 2-year period as weather conditions allowed. A follow-up burn in 2008 consumed remaining debris on about 420 acres of forest floor.
Refuge firefighters worked with the local youth conservation corps crew, as well as crews from Curlew Job Corps, National Park Service, Washington Conservation Corps, Northwest Youth Corps, and a private contractor to complete the work.
Piles of ponderosa pine slash stand ready for burning after the area was thinned.
Firefighters from the refuge and other agencies light a prescribed burn to an area of the project to eliminate remaining slash and seedlings.
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