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Preserving Eastern Washington's Forests

The video above explains why wildfires have been growing in severity in recent years.  

Healthy forests are vital for clean water and air, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, our quality of life, wildfire resilience and the economic health of our rural economies. But the state’s forests, particularly in Central and Eastern Washington, are in crisis. Hot, dry conditions coupled with overly dense, diseased and dying forests are leading to catastrophic wildfires.

The number of acres burned annually has increased significantly. In 2018 alone, more than 438,000 acres of wildland burned in Washington state. This represents an increase of 45 percent over the average acres burned from 2009 to 2017.

Without intervention, this trend toward uncharacteristically severe fires will continue. By the 2080s, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest are expected to burn four times as many acres annually when compared with the annual acres burned from 1916 to 2007. Through an all-lands, all-hands approach, Washington is working to restore forests and enhance forest resiliency to severe wildfires, drought, and insect and disease outbreaks.

Key Factors that Impact Forest Health

Long history of wildfire suppression – More than a century of putting out forest fires has allowed our forests to grow too dense, making them compete for nutrients, water and sunlight, and making them more susceptible to health problems and catastrophic wildfires.

Climate change and drought – Drought conditions dramatically increase the risk of large, severe wildfires as well as large insect outbreaks. In 2017, Washington experienced drought statewide during the summer and had the third warmest summer on record, surpassing both 2016 and 2015. Climate projections indicate that the climate from 2015 – Washington’s worst fire year – will be the norm by the middle of this century.

Past forest management practices – Past logging practices removed our largest, most resilient trees from the landscape.

Damage by disease and insects – Approximately 230,000 acres of forest in Central and Eastern Washington were damaged by insects and disease in 2018.

Human encroachment – As Washington's population grows, people continue to move into wilderness areas prone to wildfire. If the state poorly manages this growth, the safety and property of Washingtonians will be at higher risk of wildfire.

Actions We Are Taking to Deliver Results
  • In October 2017, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) launched a 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan to treat 1.25 million acres of the state’s unhealthiest forests in Central and Eastern Washington, with the help of many partners, including the federal government, conservation groups, tribes, and timber companies.
  • In 2019, DNR unveiled the Washington State Wildland Fire Protection 10-Year Strategic Plan with solutions for a prepared, safe and resilient Washington.
  • DNR assessed more than 1 million acres of high-priority forestland in 2018, identifying 12 focus areas in Central and Eastern Washington with up to 430,000 acres that could benefit from forest health treatments, such as mechanical thinning or controlled burning (prescribed fire). For more details on the analysis and results, see the SB 5546 Forest Health Assessment and Treatment Framework Report.
  • DNR works with counties, conservation districts, and local fire districts to reduce wildfire risk and help communities prepare for wildfires. This includes helping Washingtonians benefit from the federally administered Firewise USA ® program.
  • DNR established the Federal Lands Program in 2018 to support forest health work on federal land throughout Washington. During the program’s pilot stage, DNR invested $500,000 to leverage $1.8 million in federal grants for this work.
  • DNR created two new grant programs in 2018 to help forest collaborative groups across the state do more forest health work.
  • The Forest Stewardship program provides land management advice and assistance to homeowners on forestland to help them prepare their forest and property for wildfires.
  • DNR’s Forest Health and Resiliency Division assists forest landowners and land managers with identifying present or future forest insect and disease problems to reduce damage caused by disease and insects.
  • The Washington State Department of Ecology administers Washington’s Air Monitoring Network to provide citizens and decision-makers with current information about the air quality in their area, including the effects of smoke from wildfires.
  • Ecology and other state agencies are addressing the challenge of climate change by developing a coordinated set of policies to help meet the state's greenhouse gas reduction targets and track carbon pollution.

 

Performance Dashboard

Objective: Reduce Catastrophic Wildfires

The chart above displays acres burned by fires in central and eastern Washington's dry forest ecosystems, based on fire severity.   

Source:  Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

Forest Restoration Need by Ownership

Source:  DNR

Total Acres With Damage by Forest Insects and Diseases

Source: DNR

DNR Priority Areas

 

Of the 2.7 million acres of unhealthy forest in Central and Eastern Washington DNR has identified its first priority areas where it will focus efforts to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The agency is actively working to bring these priority areas to healthy conditions. This interactive map shows these priority areas.

Recommended Forest Health Treatments for High Priority Areas

Source: DNR