Fire Management

Prescribed Fire 512x412

The Ponderosa pine forests which predominate many areas of the refuge are a "fire dependent" forest type in which natural fires of the past caused by lightning burned with a frequency interval of 5 to 15 years. Turnbull NWR utilizes prescribed fire as one of the primary management tools to improve habitat conditions for wildlife in a variety of vegetation communities.

Fire suppression strategies employed at Turnbull NWR emphasize firefighter and public safety in combination with a well trained and equipped fire management team that is capable of suppressing wildfires quickly, before significant resource damage can occur. 
Meeting this objective requires a refuge fire management program with a significant initial attack capability of equipment and personnel. Turnbull Fire Staff include an Assistant Fire Management Officer, a Prescribed Fire and Fuels Specialist, a Supervisory Forest Technician, and several seasonal firefighters. 
Turnbull firefighters have assisted local Spokane County Fire Districts as well as Washington State Department of Natural Resources personnel on over 100 mutual aid assist fires since 1990, including saving homes and ranches during the infamous "Firestorm 91" which destroyed over 100 homes in eastern Washington. 
With the advent of aggressive fire suppression policies during the 20th century forest conditions at Turnbull NWR as well as many other fire dependent forest types throughout the west have changed dramatically. Historic ponderosa pine forests were described as being "open and park like" with 15 to 25 large diameter trees per acre. Fire exclusion has resulted in the removal of the influence of natural fires to thin the density of pine stands through time. Currently stand conditions in many areas of the refuge have densities exceeding 400 trees per acre, growing in "doghair" thickets of suppressed, spindly trees that barely exceed 3 inches in diameter growth after 60 years. These stands have excessive levels of dead material that will eventually contribute to an extreme wildfire.
Management strategies developed for Turnbull NWR call for the integration of a variety of techniques to restore natural stand conditions, reduce hazard fuels and improve wildlife habitat. These strategies include the use of crews to thin non-commercial stands and contract logging operations to be followed by the application of prescribed fire and a prescribed fire crew. This crew was established to thin our over-crowded stand of Ponderosa pine and re-introduce fire back into the Turnbull ecosystem.