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Fall prescribed burning projects set to begin

Fall prescribed burning projects set to begin

BAKER CITY — The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is preparing to implement the fall prescribed burn program on about 10,000 acres across the forest. Cooler temperatures and rain are expected in the next several days which will provide conditions conducive for fall burning.

Prescribed fire managers coordinate daily with the National Weather Service, the Oregon State Smoke Forecast Center, and adjacent National Forests to determine the optimum time and place to implement each burn. Each burn project has specific resource and prescribed fire objectives and constraints which guide fire managers in determining whether to proceed with a burn. Objectives of the burns include hazardous fuel reduction, slash removal, big game and other wildlife habitat improvement, and forest ecosystem restoration. Forest Service employees and cooperators will do the burning.

“Firefighter and public safety is our top priority as we implement these burns” says Steve Hawkins, Fuels Program Manager. “Smoke management is also a priority as we do not wish to impact our neighbor communities.”

However, nearby residents and forest visitors should expect temporary smoke in the vicinity of any prescribed fire activity and drivers should pay extra attention while traveling through or adjacent to burn areas.

The locations of the proposed prescribed burns are listed below and additional details are available on the fire and aviation page of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest website; or at any forest office. Actual acres within a project area may vary depending on fuel conditions, smoke dispersal, and weather conditions and not all proposed burns may be completed this fall since typical weather conditions provide for limited burn windows. For more information concerning the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest prescribed burning program, contact Bret Ruby at 541-523-1415 or Steve Hawkins at 541-523-1262.

Burnt-Powder Fire Zone – 541-523-4476 – Whitman Ranger District, includes Baker, Halfway and Unity areas. The BPFZ plans to conduct prescribed burning on 5000 acres this fall which may include:

• Foothills (200 acres) Baker City Watershed, 4 miles west of Baker City
• Jack and California (600 acres) Whitney Valley
• Deer and BEMA (200 acres) Sumpter Valley
• Woodtick (100 acres) north of Unity Reservoir
• Dry Creek, East Pine, and Barnard (750 acres) Pine Valley near Halfway
• Mile 9 (250 acres) South Fork of Burnt River near Unity
• Stices (325 acres) 10 miles south of Baker City
• Goose (500 acres) 6 miles northwest of Sparta

Wallowa Fire Zone – 541-426-4978 – Wallowa Valley Ranger District, Hells Canyon NRA and Eagle Cap Ranger District. The WFZ plans to conduct prescribed burning on 3500 acres this fall which may include:

• Minam (3,600 acres) west of the Little Minam River
• Spooner (1500 acres) Harl Butte area
• Hotel (510 acres) 20 miles north of Wallowa
• Simmons (115 acres) 20 miles north of Enterprise
• Green McCoy (195 acres) Minam River
• Baldwin (340 acres) 15 miles north of Enterprise
• Arroz (365 acres) 24 miles northeast of Enterprise in the Summit Ridge area

Grande Ronde Fire Zone – 541-963-7186 – La Grande Ranger District. The GRFZ plans to conduct prescribed burning on 1500 acres this fall which may include:

• Moss Potter (125 acres) southeast of Cove
• Horsefly (1000 acres) 5 miles southwest of La Grande
• Dark Meadow (650 acres) 15 miles west of La Grande
• Bald Angel ( 550 acres) 7 miles southeast of Medical Springs
• Medical Springs (150 acres)12 miles southeast of Union
• Blue Fly (300 acres) 20 miles southwest of La Grande

In most areas, prescribed burning is the last of a series of treatments for vegetation and fuel reduction projects analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act. Public input, cooperation with local and governmental cooperators is part of the process prior to every burn. Burning often follows harvest or other thinning activities that remove some trees while retaining the largest, healthiest trees of the most fire-resistant species, such as Ponderosa pine and western larch. Smaller trees (ladder fuels) are removed so stands will be less susceptible to crown fires. Prescribed burning completes the treatment by consuming much of the surface fuel accumulation.

Prescribed burning is done to reduce dead and down fuels, selectively thin understory trees in dense forested stands, stimulate fire resistant plant species, enhance forage and browse, reduce the risk of large stand-replacement fires, and restore fire under controlled conditions as a disturbance factor in these landscapes. Prescribed burns can range from tens to thousands of acres in size.

Fire history studies have shown that fire was a dominant natural process in the Blue Mountains, maintaining a more open and park-like condition throughout the low- to mid-elevation forests. Low-intensity surface fires burned throughout these drier forests and grasslands perpetuating open, park-like stands of fire tolerant tree species such as Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and larch.

Hazardous fuel reduction is not without impacts. Smoke associated with prescribed burning is a major component and the hardest to forecast in the implementation planning process. Prescribed fire managers work closely with the Oregon State Smoke Forecast Center in accordance with the Oregon Smoke Management Plan to determine when, where, and how much is burned on a daily basis. Smoke dispersion models looking at volume of smoke, direction of spread and mixing heights are determined prior to each burn, smoke which may prove a significant impact to a sensitive area or community is rescheduled until the time of a more favorable forecast.

Burning is part of the series of fuel reduction treatments intended to decrease the damage done by wildfires, including reducing the amount of smoke that typically impacts communities during the fire season. The intent is to keep smoke out of populated areas. Burning under controlled conditions reduces surface and ladder fuels setting the stage to limit future high intensity unplanned fires and smoke which they would produce. Many areas are burned on 10 to 15 year rotation to limit fuels accumulations and enhance forage and browse important to wildlife.

Wallowa-Whitman forest managers have conducted prescribed burning operations for fuel reduction for over 20 years. The Forest completes between 5,000 and 10,000 acres of prescribed burning each year.

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