State Offers to Share Cost of Forest Clean-up

By Tom Bacon

Washington's Department of Natural Resources is urging private forest owners in eastern Washington to practice a dose of preventative medicine before next summer's fire season. The state's land management agency is offering to go 50-50 on the cost of thinning trees in overgrown forests, pruning and cleaning up dry debris littering forest floors that can turn to fire kindling in a flash.

Private forest owners of up to 5,000 acres in four counties - Chelan, Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima - all on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, have been told that a Forest Health Hazard Warning has been issued for their areas.

A DNR official said that many forest stands in those four counties have become overgrown, producing weaker trees that are susceptible to damage from spruce budworms and bark beetles. Trees, in turn, which are riddled with bugs and disease can turn quickly into torches if lightning strikes of if careless campers or loggers set fires.

Two years ago, the Department of NAtural Resources estimated that a third of eastern Washigton's forests would be ruined by bark beetles in the next fifteen years or so. The number of acres of trees damaged or killed by disease such as blister rust or by burrowing beetles is more than twice the toll in the 1990s, and about three times greater than in the 1980s.

The idea behind the cost-sharing clean-up program is spur landowners to thin trees, to prune back growth as high as ten feet off the ground, and to clear away slash -fallen branches, needles and twigs.
Two eastern Washington counties  - Okanagon and Ferry - are undergoing an outbreak of spruce budworm, small caterpillars that eat the needles of fir trees and eventually kill them by defoliation.
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