This spring, the Washington Department of Natural Resources is beginning a 10-year plan to treat approximately 12,000 acres of fire-prone land around Glenwood.
In 2004, 1,700 acres are scheduled for brush removal and thinning in a project paid for with a $350,000 grant. Contractors will remove trees with 12 inch diameter and smaller as well as pruning and tree spacing as a way to open the forest floor and reduce the amount of fuel that could make a wildfire much more serious.
"The work will start in May, once the snow comes off. We like to jump on it as soon as we can," said Matt Eberlein, fuels management technician for DNR in Ellensburg. "We'll remove underbrush and leave shaded overstory, which will retain moisture on the ground without the heavy fuel loading. As a result, fires are more likely to stay on the ground and not crown, which makes them easier to fight and less intense."
The first areas targeted are located north and east of the community of Glenwood.
Another $250,000 grant is expected to be available for 2005.
"There is a chance we won't get that, and that would slow the project down but not stop it," said Eberlein. "If we don't receive it next year, we'll keep applying. Our hope is to employ five permanent people and 20 seasonal employees. There are quite a few of these projects going on."
Debbie Robinson, fire prevention coordinator for DNR's Southeast Region, said the agency will offer seminars about wildfire for homeowners, focusing on how to make homes more defensible against fire.
"Our fire crews are assessing the danger over a large geographic area," Robinson said. "It helps enable the success of getting grants for this work if we can show an assessment has been done. And we can show that an area really needs it."
The Southeast Region covers 14 Washington counties.
"We go from the Idaho border to the top of Snoqualmie Pass, and from the north end of Lake Chelan to the Columbia River," Robinson explained.
According to Eberlein, the serious fires in the West in recent years have provided impetus for these projects.
"What has been driving this from the beginning and really got this going were all the big fires in Montana in 2000," he explained. "And last year, what went on in Arizona was a big reason to keep doing this."
Most of the land to be treated is state land, but private land is sometimes included, at no cost to the landowner.
"A few don't want anything done, but 99 percent are up for making their part of the forest healthier and safer," Eberlein said.