Under TNC’s active management, the forest we visited is now in a much healthier place than before the 2017 wildfire. TNC is using mastication to remove excess fuels on the forest floors. These are large machines that mulch the brush and small trees. We also conduct commercial and pre-commercial thinning to help this forest be less susceptible to destructive wildfires.
Our mile-long walk brought policymakers past slash piles from previous mastication and thinning as well as signs of recent prescribed burns. TNC’s Burn Boss Sami Schinnell emphasized the timeliness of this work: “We respond to wildfires as an emergency. We also need to be responding to this issue of putting fire back on the landscape as an emergency.” Legislators saw untreated areas that had heavy fuel loads and then got to see areas where this combination of approaches had restored the forest to a more resilient state.
The work underway on Cle Elum Ridge is made possible with funding from House Bill 1168, which passed in 2021 to fund three areas: wildfire prevention, forest health and restoration, and community wildfire resilience. It was a full-circle moment to be able to thank Rep. Larry Springer for sponsoring the bill in person, while seeing the impact of these funds in action. The Department of Natural Resources’ 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan identified the need to treat 1.25 million acres across federal, state and private lands. Our Cle Elum Ridge work is an example of the progress being made towards this goal with the help of House Bill 1168, but we need to keep up the momentum with robust ongoing funding for all three areas of fire and forest health activities.