Improving Forest Health and Reducing Wildfire Risk

Chuck Hersey
Forest Health Specialist, Department of Natural Resources

Spruce Budworn damageEvery year thousands of acres of forestland in eastern Washington are damaged by a variety of native insects and diseases, making dead and dying trees an all too familiar sight. The problem? Forests that are too dense and planted with an incorrect mix of species. Over the last 100 years, the change from ponderosa pine dominated forests to those dominated by Douglas fir has led to an abundance of weakened trees and stand conditions that favor damaging outbreaks of western spruce and pine bark beetles.

Befor After
Before (left) and after thinning (right)

The good news is that we know how to fight back and make our forests more resilient – thinning!  Reducing tree density and leaving healthy, well adapted trees provides our forests the best chance to defend themselves from whatever Mother Nature is going to throw their way, whether it is pine bark beetles, fire, or drought.  Thinning also ensures that the remaining trees have the water, nutrients, and sunlight needed to maintain their health.

Hazard map
Forest health hazard warning areas shown in red.

In August 2012 the Commissioner of Public Lands, Peter Goldmark, issued a Forest Health Hazard Warning for portions of Okanogan, Ferry, Klickitat and Yakima counties. The purpose was to focus attention, resources, and voluntary landowner actions on addressing eastern Washington’s forest health concerns. DNR worked closely with the state legislature to secure $1.25 million in funding in the 2013-2015 biennium to begin that work. These state funds are an investment to help landowners cover up to 50 percent of the cost for practices such as thinning, slash disposal, and pruning, which improve forest health by reducing fuels. DNR is committed to improving forest health in eastern Washington. Forest landowners interested in having a forester assess the health of their forests should contact their local DNR Landowner Assistance Program. The forester can make recommendations for improving forest health, reducing the risk of wildfire, and applying for cost-share. If you own land in:

  •   Okanogan County or Ferry County, contact DNR’s Northeast Region Landowner Assistance Program at 509-684-7474.
  • Klickitat County or Yakima County, contact DNR’s Southeast Region Landowner Assistance Program at 509-925-8510.

Landowners in these counties can also fill out an online Eastern Washington Forest Landowner Cost-Share Application.

Additional forest health information is available online on DNR’s Forest Health Hazard Warning Landowner Assistance Center web page.