The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest will begin implementing its spring prescribed burning programs following expected warmer and drier conditions.
Prescribed fire managers are planning to implement hazardous fuel reduction burns beginning at many project sites. Prescribed burning is done to reduce dead and down fuels, selectively thin understory trees in dense forested stands, stimulate fire-resistant plant species, enhance forage and browse, reduce the risk of large stand-replacement fires, and restore fire under controlled conditions as a disturbance factor in these landscapes. Prescribed burns can range from tens to thousands of acres in size.
In most areas, prescribed burning is the last of a series of treatments for vegetation and fuel reduction projects analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act. Public input, cooperation with local and governmental cooperators is part of the process before every burn. Burning often follows harvest or other thinning activities that remove some trees while retaining the largest, healthiest trees of the most fire-resistant species, such as ponderosa pine and western larch. Smaller trees (ladder fuels) are removed so stands will be less susceptible to crown fires. Prescribed burning completes the treatment by consuming much of the surface fuel accumulation.
Fire history studies have shown that fire was a dominant natural process in the Blue Mountains, maintaining a more open and park-like condition throughout the low- to mid-elevation forests. Low-intensity surface fires burned throughout these drier forests and grasslands perpetuating open, park-like stands of fire-tolerant tree species such as ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and larch.
Hazardous fuel reduction is not without impacts. Smoke associated with prescribed burning is a major concern and the hardest to forecast in the implementation planning process. Prescribed fire managers work closely with the Oregon State Smoke Forecast Center in accordance with the Oregon Smoke Management Plan to determine when, where, and how much is burned on a daily basis. Smoke dispersion models looking at volume of smoke, direction of spread and mixing heights are determined prior to each burn. Smoke which may prove a significant impact to a sensitive area or community is rescheduled until the time of a more favorable forecast.
Burning is part of the series of fuel reduction treatments intended to decrease the damage done by wildfires, including reducing the amount of smoke that typically impacts communities during the fire season. The intent is to keep smoke out of populated areas. Burning under controlled conditions reduces surface and ladder fuels setting the stage to limit future high-intensity unplanned fires and smoke which they would produce. Many areas are burned on 10- to 15-year rotation to limit fuels accumulations and enhance forage and browse important to wildlife.
Wallowa-Whitman forest managers have been successfully conducting prescribed burning operations for fuel reduction for over 20 years, and plan to continue into the foreseeable future. The forest completes between 5,000 and 10,000 acres of prescribed burning in a year.
Actual acres within a project area may vary dependent upon fuel conditions, smoke dispersion, wind patterns, and other variables. Acres may be higher or lower in some project areas than listed. Weather patterns, fuel conditions, and smoke dispersion will determine exactly where and when units are ignited within the project areas. It is anticipated that not all areas will be within prescription and will not be implemented this spring, while other project areas may have more acres within prescription that may be implemented.
Forest Service and cooperators' personnel will do the burning. For more information about the Wallowa-Whitman prescribed burning program, contact Bret Ruby at 541-523-1207 or Steve Hawkins at 541-523-1262 or visit the forest's website to view the spring 2013, burn unit maps.
Within the Wallowa Fire Zone, up to 5,000 acres of prescribed burning this spring may include:
Minam (1,500acres) west of the Little Minam River.
Spooner (1,500 acres) Harl Butte area.
Hotel (758) 20 miles north of Wallowa.
Simmons (115 acres) 20 miles north of Enterprise.
Green McCoy (760 acres) Minam River.
Baldwin (340 acres) 15 miles north of Enterprise
Arroz (350 acres) 24 miles northeast of Enterprise in the Summit Ridge Area.
Red Vine (20 acres) northeast of Enterprise near Billy Meadows.