To restore a forest and reduce the risk of severe wildfires, a conservation group is cutting down trees. The Nature Conservancy is selectively logging dry forests in Washington’s Central Cascades as part of a long-term plan to make thousands of privately owned forestland more resilient to fire, disease and climate change.
A century of wildfire suppression has resulted in overgrown tree stands that are ripe for fire, so the group is weeding out smaller trees that can serve as kindling for fires. They’re leaving bigger, older and more fire-resistant ponderosa pines while removing tree species such as grand fir that are more susceptible to fire.
“We’re changing how the fire would burn, and changing it from severe to a fire that would be good and would maintain forest health,” said Ryan Haugo, senior forest ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. “We’re trying to mimic the role that fire would naturally play.”
The restoration thinning project outside the city of Cle Elum mirrors numerous projects in forests across the U.S. West, mostly on federal public lands, aimed at preventing wildfires and restoring forest health.
The project by a private landowner also represents a fraction of the millions of acres that some say need to be treated to prevent the kind of intense wildfires that have scorched thousands of acres across the U.S. West.