Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Tami Miketa
Tami Miketa, manager, Small Forest Landowner Office

In this message, I am stepping away from my traditional forestry-related topics to speak about the critical issue we are all facing at this difficult time.

We are in the midst of some very uncertain and unprecedented times, and our level of anxiety is extremely high. The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. Below are some tips and thoughts I have come across that have inspired me and I want to share with you.

First of all, we all need to focus on the good you’re doing for others. Always remember, by staying at home, you are doing your part in protecting the vulnerable people in your neighborhood and community who are at risk for the severe form of COVID-19. Indeed, knowing others will benefit from your decisions and health authorities are genuinely grateful for your efforts can make stressful situations easier to bear.

Don’t get stressed about being stressed. The more you resist stress, the worse it gets. Instead, interpret the extra adrenaline as having a high energy level or an energy burst. Perhaps you can use the energy and take a run, take a walk through your woods, or just feel it flow through your veins.

Keep things in perspective. Sure, there are big things going on now. However, our brains can make relatively small things look really big, too. Remember that your financial portfolio is not your life portfolio. Your ability to think, talk, walk, see, hear, and love are way more important than the current value of a financial investment. Our brains are unable to process many things at one time, so our full attention becomes focused on one problem. Gratitude is not a corny practice; it is bringing ourselves back to reality when we’ve lost perspective. Multiple times a day, list your blessings ― shelter, food, health (focusing on what is working, not just what isn’t working) and, most of all, the people in your life.

Reconnect with family and friends. In these times of social distancing, use and appreciate the time to read, write, get home tasks done, watch movies, play board games with the family, and connect. Remember the people far away who could use some interaction. FaceTime your family, call your aunt, or Skype your old college buddy. Make sure they are doing well, and if they’re not, lend an ear and your warmth.

Take care of yourself. Eat nutritiously, with plenty of veggies and some fruit, and get enough sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, don’t try too hard. Obsessing about how vital it is to get to sleep won’t get you back to sleep. Think of it as a perfect time to meditate. Going over thoughts again and again? Try writing them down.

Practice good mental health. It is important during any stressful event to check in with yourself and your own mental health. You cannot help take care of others until you have taken care of yourself.

Remember that the situation is evolving. Some decisions are easy: If you’re sick, stay away from others. If you have plans that are two months from now, and there’s no penalty for postponing a decision, remember that the right answer may become very clear by that time, so why stress now? On the other hand, if you’re responsible for organizing an event, canceling sooner rather than later will let others make better plans. Overall, remember that the importance of our community’s well-being should be more important than saving a few dollars.

Know how to deal with emotions and when to ask for help. Accept your emotions for now. Otherwise, you’ll get sad about being sad or anxious about being anxious. You don’t need to justify your emotions. Simplify them and let go of the metaphors you hear in songs and movies. Know it will pass. If it’s prolonged, please ask for help. Talk to a counselor and/or your primary care provider. Getting help when needed is a sign of maturity and wisdom. Don’t wait until you’re at wit’s end – get help early and often.

Include helping others as part of your COVID-19 game plan. As I mentioned earlier, it’s normal to think of protecting yourself and your family first. However, if things get difficult in your community, I encourage you to keep an eye out for how you can help others. Reflect on how you might contribute to the strength and well-being of others beyond your immediate family, particularly if things get worse. Of course, this would not mean ignoring guidelines around public safety, or foolishly exposing yourself. But do think of how you might help others.

Roll with the punches. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, every day brings something entirely new and unexpected. These disruptions to our cherished routines can be another big source of anxiety. Try to create new routines and new structure, and find new positivity to create comfort in the home. Sometimes, there are projects that we always wanted to do but never had the chance because we’ve been too distracted or busy. It might be the perfect opportunity to finally check boxes on that to-do list that we’ve been putting off.

Most of all, be kind and compassionate. We’ve evolved to take joy in helping others, connecting with others, and working in teams. The happiest people are not the richest ones but the ones who have learned to be compassionate. Think of the people closest to you and how you want them to be happy and healthy, and then bring those same thoughts and feelings to others. Be generous with your kind words and your kind deeds. We all will benefit, and so will you. COVID-19 is a wake-up call, and our salvation is in our compassion.

Asking someone if they are OK, leaving a note at the neighbors to see if they need something while you run to the store, sharing a supportive smile as you pass strangers on the street, these are all ways folks across America are showering acts of kindness on each other during these unprecedented times.

Here are some other ideas to help others:

  • Message and/or call to check in on friends and family. This is especially important for our senior and immunosuppressed communities. Remind them that they are not alone.
  • If you know of someone who needs resources (food, goods) but is unable to leave their home, you can send them a virtual gift card or order necessary items to be delivered directly to them (via online stores, grocery delivery, etc.).
  • Show gratitude for first responders, folks in medical fields, and those organizing food banks. You can do this by message, phone call, e-card, or the like.
  • Donate online to local non-profit organizations that are helping people through the crisis (food banks, shelters).
  • Writing gratitude letters is a great way to spread some kindness. Order postage online, and send a note to someone who could use a smile.
  • Do you miss connecting with people? Try coordinating virtual meet-ups and activities to give people some structure and fun. Virtual book clubs or game night, live-tweet movie/show watching, or any other activity that can be shared via social media and/or streaming.
  • Small businesses are taking a hit from lack of customers. To help with this, purchase gift cards that you can use at a later time, or gift to family or friends. The extra funds will help them keep their operations open. Check to see if they have opened an online shop with delivery.
  • Spend some time with your pet or walking neighborhood dogs. Maybe foster a pet if you would like some animal companionship.

Remember, self-isolation measures are temporary. Like all other disease outbreaks, COVID-19 will pass, and life will return to normal. Because we don’t know when that day will come, we just have to wait it out. By following the guidelines issued by public health and practicing good hygiene and social distancing, we can help ensure the health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed all at once. The best way to manage anxiety is by focusing on the positive that we have around us right now.

I would love to hear some of the things that you’re doing to help yourself, your family, and your community. If you would like to share, please send me an email at tami.miketa@dnr.wa.gov and I will post them on our website at dnr.wa.gov/sflo.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and remember, we can do this!

Creating the Right Certified Prescribed Burn Manager Program for Washington

A prescribed fire is set in the Methow Valley. (Photo by Ken Bevis, DNR)

By Rob Lionberger, Eastern Washington Stewardship Forester, Forest Health Division, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov

Washington state has a unique opportunity to build a legislatively backed program for enabling those who wish to use fire as a tool to do so safely and responsibly. Washington House Bill (HB) 2733, passed in 2018, directed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop and implement a certified prescribed burn manager program with the intent of safely increasing the pace and scale of prescribed burning in Washington. With deliberate thought, input from our partners and stakeholders, and the example of 20 other states in various stages of implementing similar programs, we are designing a program custom-fit to our state.

HB 2733 intends to cover all non-federal burners in the state, including private landowners, non-profit organization staff, private contractors, college students, and state employees, as well as anyone interested in certification as a burn manager in Washington. The DNR will provide training and education for those who wish to be certified, but certification is not required to lead a burn in the state.  However, certification will have several benefits, including a reduced liability standard and potentially streamlined approval for burn permits and smoke management requests. There will also be some continuing education and burning experience required to remain certified. The program addresses decertification of burn managers who violate burning and smoke laws or regulations as well.

The DNR has made some good progress this year already, including a focus group in central Washington for stakeholders, partners, and interested parties to be able provide input during the planning process. We intended to have two more such meetings in eastern and western Washington as well, but the current restrictions on meetings have made those unlikely to happen before the program is out for a trial run, in June or July. The basics of the program came from that initial productive meeting, but you can help shape the final product with your feedback. The team at DNR is drafting the pre-work, classroom curriculum, and field requirements now, in addition to the recertification and decertification processes.

If you are interested in learning more about burn manager certification in all 21 states that have the program, please check out the Forest Stewards Guild report here. I rely heavily on this great resource to understand the various states’ approaches. If you are interested in becoming a certified burn manager or just want to find out more about the program in Washington, please contact me at rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov or 509-703-9988.

Rob Lionberger is acting as the Prescribed Fire Program’s Prescribed Fire Training Specialist in DNR’s Forest Health and Resiliency Division. He is currently actively working on the creation and implementation of the certified prescribed burn manager program for Washington state.

Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Tami Miketa
Tami Miketa, manager, Small Forest Landowner Office

Change is inevitable, and there has been one that we feel is significant within our agency.

DNR recently established a new Forest Health & Resiliency Division. This new organization within the larger DNR is focusing efforts to make forests across the state healthier, and in turn, more resilient to wildfires, climate change, drought, insects, and diseases.

This work is part of DNR’s Forest Action Plan and its 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, aiming to reduce wildfire risk, boost rural economies, and improve the health of more than 1.25 million acres of Washington forests through a myriad of partnerships. These include state and federal agencies, tribes, private and commercial landowners, and others. The division provides services related to urban and community forestry, forest health monitoring, tree care advice and assistance, prescribed fire, the Good Neighbor Authority initiative, community wildfire preparedness and now, Forest Stewardship.

This past August, our Forest Stewardship Program moved from the Forest Practices Division’s Small Forest Landowner Office to this new division. Moving the Forest Stewardship Program to the Forest Health & Resiliency Division better aligns the services available to small forest landowners, placing forest management assistance programs under the direction of one division – a division directly overseen by our State Forester, George Geissler. It will also improve the cohesion between DNR’s existing Forest Health Assistance Program in eastern Washington, the 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan for central and eastern Washington, the statewide Forest Action Plan, and DNR’s statewide Wildland Fire Protection Strategic Plan, all of which depend on working closely with Washington’s small forest landowners.

The Forest Health & Resiliency Division will provide the following services to small forest landowners:

  • Give holistic forest management advice and technical and cost-share assistance to encourage landowners in active management. This can improve overall productivity of their forests while leading to a healthier and more resilient environment.
  • Assist landowners in developing a personalized management plan that protects, improves, and restores the health, productivity, habitat quality, and sustainability of their forests.
  • Administer cost-share incentive programs for forest health and fuels mitigation in central and eastern Washington, thus reducing unhealthy and unnatural wildfire fuels.
  • Partner with the Washington State University Extension in providing education programs to small forest landowners statewide.

The Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO), still within the Forest Practices Division, will remain a resource for small forest landowners who want help navigating forestry regulations and accessing Small Forest Landowner Office programs. The SFLO will continue to:

  • Help small forest landowners complete Forest Practices Applications and access the programs to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and water quality.
  • Manage the Family Forest Fish Passage Program (FFFPP), a cost-share program that provides small landowners with 75 percent to 100 percent of the cost to remove fish barriers from their property. Enrolled landowners are not required to replace a barrier until the state determines that the barrier is a funding priority.
  • Manage the Forestry Riparian Easement Program (FREP), which provides financial compensation to qualifying small landowners who are required to leave commercial timber in riparian buffers during timber harvests.
  • Manage the Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program (RHOSP), formerly known as the Riparian Open Space Program, which purchases conservation easements from landowners with forested land that is located in a channel-migration zone and is critical habitat for state-listed threatened or endangered species.
  • Provide Regulation Assistance Foresters, a statewide resource to provide technical guidance to small forest landowners on forest practices-related issues and help them navigate the state’s Forest Practices Application process.

I am very happy to announce the Small Forest Landowner Office recently hired a state-wide Regulation Assistance Forester, Todd Olson. Todd comes into this position with extensive experience in DNR with 16 years in the Forest Practices Program as a Forest Practices forester and compliance monitoring field coordinator, and six years as a state lands forester. Todd will be located in Olympia, but will help serve small forest landowners across the state in providing technical guidance related to the state’s Forest Practices Rules and the Forest Practices Application process. Learn more about Todd in this issue of the SFLO News.

The two programs will work in close coordination to provide the services needed to small forest landowners. On the ground, things will remain basically the same – only better.

Using Fire to Restore Forests in Central and Eastern Washington

Firefighters light a prescribed burn just above the town of Roslyn on a private land burn as a part of the Fall 2019 TREX (prescribed fire TRaining EXchange). TREX partners included The Nature Conservancy, the U.S Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, British Columbia Ministry of Forestry, and private contractors. Photo ©2019 Kara Karboski

By Rob Lionberger, Eastern Washington Stewardship Forester, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov

Prescribed fire is becoming a hot topic around the country, and the state of Washington is no exception. In the case of central and eastern Washington’s fire-dependent ecosystems, fire is an essential process, which we removed without providing a suitable replacement.

Now, we are suffering the consequences through catastrophic wildfires and destructive insect and disease outbreaks. One of the best options to restore and maintain fire dependent ecosystems is to reintroduce fire through controlled, forest restoration burns – also commonly called prescribed fire. This is what drives the discussion to the forefront of the forest health problem and it is why I am passionate about being a part of the solution.

So how did we get here? We are largely a victim of our own success.

In 1910, devastating wildfires swept through much of north Idaho and western Montana, striking fear into the heart of the nation. At the same time, the young U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service was beginning to take shape, which led to an emphasis on suppressing all wildfires.

Fire was the enemy, and we were at war.

Soon came the 10 a.m. policy, directing firefighters to extinguish all fires by 10 a.m. the next day. Just a few years later, the Forest Service launched the most successful advertising campaign in history. Smokey Bear became more recognizable worldwide than Coca-Cola. Eventually, nearly everyone was convinced that all fire was bad.

Additionally, public opinion about the timber industry began to change in the ’60s and ’70s, and management of our state’s forests began to slow. With less wood available, mills closed and our capacity to process timber diminished. Many private landowners no longer have a viable market to sell their logs if they want to manage their forest.

The lack of fire, combined with cascading effects on the timber industry from the lack of raw materials and diminishing infrastructure to mill the logs, steered our forests in central and eastern Washington toward their current state, with many overstocked and declining forest stands.

That brings us to where we are now. Overstocked forests surround many Washington communities due to a lack of fire, natural or otherwise. This is, for the most part, regardless of who owns the forestland.

Those born in the last 50 years mistakenly believe that the state of our current forests in central and eastern Washington is what a natural forest should look like. The reality is they are unrecognizable when compared with what was here when settlers first moved west.

Without fire and management, there are very few options for nature to maintain balance. Insects and disease, along with uncharacteristically severe wildfires, fill the void we created. We are in a tough position that will require commitment on all of our parts to set things right again.

There is a lot of momentum building to reintroduce fire into our forests that so desperately need it. Revision of the Washington Smoke Management Plan to find common sense ways to allow for more prescribed burning is already under way. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), led by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, is building its Prescribed Fire Program within the Forest Health and Resiliency Division to address prescribed fire needs both within our agency and with our public and private partners. We have many collaborators with us to achieve our goals.

These changes are why I have hope even given the scope and breadth of the problem we face. I challenge you to learn more about Washington’s fire dependent forests. Please visit dnr.wa.gov/ForestHealthPlan or contact me at rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov or 509-703-9988.

Rob Lionberger is the Eastern Washington Stewardship Forester with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. He is a professional forester and just completed his 31st season in prescribed fire and wildland firefighting. He attained a Bachelor of Science in Forestry with an emphasis on Fire Ecology from the University of Montana. He is also an over-the-top optimist looking toward a brighter future.