Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Burning land to stay ahead of wildfire threat

Where we removed trees from densely overstocked stands last summer, we now see spring grasses coming up as more light reaches the forest floor.

In some areas, though, the forest duff is so thick and compacted that the grass doesn't have a chance of penetrating it. The ground under the duff is moist and bare, but no light or seeds make it through.

This TV news story talks about prescribed burns (Rx fires). Northwest Management forester Brian Vrablick explains the process of burning to eliminate that thick carpet of fir needles and fine sticks.

It's scary to think about igniting that dry duff around fire-intolerant fir trees. The story doesn't talk about the prep work before the Rx fire, that of removing the flash fuels around the stems. If the ground fire is too hot it could kill some trees we selected to leave -- the biggest and healthiest of them all -- because the heat scorches the stems (trunks).

Totally natural fire ecology would eliminate the duff with fires every 10 years or so. Those same fires would eliminate the fir and leave an open stand of Ponderosa Pine.

We're not prepared to go that far (i.e., clearcut) to return to PP in 50 years. We have PP stands on half the property. And we're working hard to keep fire from doing any clearcutting for us.

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