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Gardening in Washington State

Reducing Fire Risk on Your Woodland

Thin your woodland. Many forests in eastern Washington are overcrowded. Growing too close together makes trees more vulnerable to crown fires. When the crowns of adjoining trees touch or are so close together they form a contiguous fuel ladder, fire can spread quickly through the canopy. Thinning your woodlands can be very effective in reducing fire risk, especially when combined with the removal of ladder fuels such as brush, pruning lower tree limbs, and removing slash left over from a timber harvest. However, thinning should be done only between August and December to avoid creating habitat for bark beetles.

Remove ladder fuels. In unthinned forest stands there are often many little trees in the understory. These small trees act as a “ladder” for fire and help carry it up into the crowns of bigger trees. Once a fire travels into the crown, tree death almost always occurs. These ladder fuels should be removed through thinning.

Prune trees. Tree branches that hang low to the ground are another kind of ladder fuel. Pruning the lower branches of trees can reduce the possibility of fire while improving aesthetics and timber quality. Increasing the distance between the ground and the lowest branches reduces the likelihood that a fire will move from the ground into the crown of a tree; a 10-foot “lift” is generally recommended for reducing this risk.

Treat slash. Slash is created after many forest management activities, such as pruning and thinning. Left on the ground, slash can increase the risk and spread of wildfire. Treating slash usually involves burning in piles or chipping. Many landfills offer designated days when yard debris can be disposed of for little or no cost. If you choose to burn, check local regulations regarding permit requirements and “burn ban” restrictions.

Valley fire

Valley Fire (Photo courtesy of Janean Creighton)

For more information on go to Backyard Forest Stewardship in Eastern Washington. http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/em028e/EM028E.pdf.

Submitted by: Tim Kohlhauff, September 15, 2014

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