The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
the Times 

Ranger districts provide updates

Topics included upcoming prescribed fire projects, commercial tree thinning, and recreation opportunities

 

Courtesy photo

A prescribed burn as part of the Pomeroy Ranger District fuels reduction program.

DAYTON-Personnel from the Pomeroy and Walla Walla Ranger Districts of the Umatilla National Forest hosted a public meeting in Dayton last week to share information about the Districts and discuss upcoming projects during the 2019 field season. The meeting was facilitated by Tyson Albrecht Fire Management Officer with the Pomeroy Ranger District.

"Both Pomeroy and Walla Walla are unique in the Pacific Northwest, in that we manage land in both states, Oregon and Washington," said Walla Walla District Ranger Mike Rassbach. The smallest portion in the Walla Walla District is in Washington, and the smallest portion of the Pomeroy District is in Oregon.

Walla Walla Ranger District

He said the 450,000-acre Walla Walla Ranger District includes the 20,000 acre North Fork Wilderness area, nine roadless areas, fifty recreation residences around Tollgate, the Jubilee Lake Recreation Area, the Mill Creek Watershed, and two ski resorts; Ski Bluewood and Spout Springs.

"We work with five different sets of county commissioners, two in Washington and three in Oregon, and we work with ten different communities," Rassbach said.

Walla Walla District Successes

Rassbach said there have been many success stories. He said one of those successes was partnering with the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) and Tri-State Steelheaders to restore the upper Touchet River, ten years ago.

"That stream was listed as at risk, and it has been removed from the list," he said.

Rassbach also pointed out how working with the former owner of Ski Bluewood led to successful ownership by some local investors, who have worked to make the ski resort a success.

"They've done just a fantastic job," Rassbach said.

Ski Bluewood Manager Kim Clark was in attendance and said there were 40,000 users at Bluewood this winter, which represents a 25-year high mark.

"To me that's a success story, not only from creating jobs and providing opportunities but they are also investing in some of the infrastructure up there to alleviate some of the erosion control issues that have been going on," Rassbach said.

He said another Walla Walla Ranger District success story happened during the 2015 Grizzly Bear Fire.

"As I look back on that fire, the success I saw was the communication we maintained with the communities, and Dayton being one of those," he said.

Pomeroy Ranger District

The smaller 344,653-acre Pomeroy Ranger District contains the 176,784-acre Wenaha

Tucannon Wilderness Area and reaches into four counties including Asotin, Garfield, Columbia and Wallowa counties, said Pomeroy District Ranger Monte Fujishin. There are seven roadless areas within its boundaries.

The District provides maintenance for sixty-seven miles of snowmobile trails on the Pomeroy side and grooming on trails on the Columbia County side. It also maintains 270 miles of hiking trails in the Wenaha Tucannon Wilderness Area, he said.

"That's a big maintenance work load, especially after the Grizzly Fire. We've been getting a lot of support from local volunteer organizations. If it wasn't for them, it would be tough for us to maintain near the miles of trail we do on a yearly basis," Fujishin said.

The Pomeroy Ranger District has four recreation cabin sites, with forty-two leases and five rental cabins, including the Wenatchee Creek and Tucannon Guard Station. There are twenty-six campgrounds.

The Pomeroy Ranger District manages wildlife, including threatened and endangered plants, along with one wolf pack.

"We definitely run the gamut of whatever is on the landscape. We get the opportunity to learn about, work with, and manage it," Fujishin said.

The District also oversees a cattle grazing program.

The Pomeroy Ranger District employs twenty-seven regular employees and between 15 and 20 seasonal employees to care for all within its boundaries.

Jack Comish North Zone Silviculturist said his job is about "tree growing." He works in forest health reforestation, commercial and noncommercial thinning, and writes prescriptions to determine the steps necessary to turn a drought-prone, fire-prone forest into desirable condition in the future.

Prescribed Fire Projects

Comish said there is a planned prescribed fire project in the works for an area around Ski Bluewood. He said increasing stands of tree density made up of only two species of trees is creating concern for biodiversity.

"When we end up with a dense forest, it is a drought-prone forest, and prolonged drought can be a catalyst for over-story tree death. We don't want that to happen so we are trying to reintroduce those species that are more fire resistant and more insect and disease tolerant, as well," Comish said.

Lowering tree densities will give shade-tolerant species, which are more fire resistant and disease tolerant, a chance to reestablish themselves.

The catalyst for this project is the 2006 Columbia Complex Fire and the 2015 Grizzly Bear Fire.

"It seemed to me, and some of the public, it might be time to take action to address wildfire risk in a treasured part of our forest," Comish said.

There is also a recreation aspect, as people want to ski in glades throughout the trees, but in a safe manner, he said. Comish said preliminary work will begin this summer, but actual implementation will begin in 2020.

The public can contact the Walla Walla Ranger District to comment on that project, during this 30-day comment period.

Tara Mackleith, Prescribed Fuels Specialist with the Pomeroy Ranger District said, "We're trying to put fire back where it was historically."

Planned Prescribed Fire Projects are within 10,380 acres in Asotin Rx, 1,320 acres in The East Side Rx, 2,970 acres in the South George Rx, 10,670 acres in the Sunrise Rx, and 3,390 acres in the Wenatchee Rx.

Joby Sciarrino, Assistant Fire Management Officer for the Walla Walla Ranger District, said a project that could have smoke impact for the City of Dayton is a landscape burn in the Upper Touchet drainage system, to take place sometime after 2020.

He also discussed the Tiger Mill Project and Tiger Creek Prescribed Burn, which are designed to protect the Mill Creek municipal watershed.

"Water quality is a big one, obviously, for the Mill Creek Municipal Watershed. All that water flows down and is used by the city of Walla Walla and residents downstream. One of the treatments is a closed watershed. We keep that closed to the public for that reason," Sciarrino said.

He said treatments will be boundary treatments along the Roads 64 and 65, and the ridge that goes along the north side.

"That is hand thinning, and commercial treatments where possible, but creating fuel breaks along the boundaries so that we can keep fire, that is not managed, outside of the watershed. Most of the dry forest is outside of that watershed and a lot of the risk comes from down drainage," Sciarrino said.

He said their office is working with specialists to see what type of treatments can be done without affecting water quality, and are especially looking for opportunities to change the vegetation structures within the watershed which can be accomplished with prescribed burns.

Thinning

Johnny Collin, North Zone Timber Management Assistant, with the Pomeroy Ranger District, said thinning 1,150 acres on the Upper Touchet River, is another project in the works.

He said 6 million board feet of lumber is expected from that project, alone.

Collin said the project with the biggest impact to Dayton is the Godman Commercial Thin CE, which just started this spring, and which should yield 2 million board feet of lumber.

"That creates quite a lot of jobs and keeps a lot of people working. And, through that, we're getting a thinner forest, more resilient to insects and disease, which is the goal of the original project," he said.

Collin said there are two current sales operations; Little George and Little George RHCA. He said Sunrise EIS has just been completed, and the first sale will be out within the next month, advertised and sold.

Law Enforcement

Austin Hess, Law Enforcement Officer for the Pacific Northwest Division provides law enforcement in the Pomeroy Ranger District and covers a lot of territory, including some in Hell's Canyon.

Hess spends the majority of his time on the Tucannon River talking to people about which roads and trails are open, which are closed, and what type of vehicle is appropriate.

"I'm always dealing with ATV use, and woodcutting issues," he said.

Hess emphasized the need for people to obtain motor vehicle permits and firewood permits. He said a downloadable map for road use can be found under maps and publications at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Umatilla/

Fish Passage and Habitat

Bill Dowdy, North Zone Fish Biologist for the Pomeroy Ranger District said partnering with the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board, the CTUIR, and Tri-State Steelheaders has provided for successful removal of fish passage barriers in the Touchet River. Removal of fish passage barriers and replacement with culverts, bridges and other passages were performed on the Pataha and the Little Tucannon River, as well.

Dowdy said the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Columbia Conservation District and the CTUIR have also partnered to place trees in the streams to improve fish habitat.

"It's a good way for us to get some of our forest products off the forest. These are things that have been blown down, that are not going to be utilized. This is not commercial timber," Dowdy said.

Dowdy said over two-hundred trees were placed in the Tucannon six years ago between the Panjab Bridge to the mouth of the Tucannon River.

Dowdy serves as a representative on the Snake River Salmon Recovery Board and provides technical assistance for Asotin and Walla Walla counties.

Where to Find Information

Information about road closures due to flooding or prescribed burns is distributed through a variety of methods, said Darcy Weseman, the Umatilla National Forest Public Affairs Officer.

This type of information is distributed through press releases, email, Twitter accounts, and on Umatilla National Forest Service webpage. It is also posted at campsites and on kiosks.

Weseman said there is also a shared blog with the Oregon Dept. of Forestry/Wallowa National Forest, and the Blue Mountain Area Dispatch Center for specific activities or projects such as wildfire prescribed burning.

"This last year we developed an interactive map for prescribed burning in the forest to show all the different areas we have planned for burns, where we are actively burning and areas we have recently completed, "Weseman said.

Information about prescribed fire projects, motor vehicle use maps, and firewood permit information can be found on the Umatilla National Forest website at: fs.usda.gov/umatilla/.

In the event of a large fire, such as the Grizzly Complex Fire, an incident web page will be created and the local Ranger Districts are an additional source of information.

To be included on a Burn Plan Notification List, email thanger@fs.fed.us orcall (509)843-

4676.

Learn more at the Firewise meeting:

June 25, 7 p.m.

Waitsburg Fairgrounds

Contacts:

Walla Walla Ranger District (509) 522-6290

Pomeroy Ranger District (509) 843-1891

Umatilla National Forest Supervisor's

(541)278-3716

 

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