The State Lands Restoration and Enhancement category provides funding to two state agencies to help repair damaged plant and animal habitat. These grants focus on resource preservation and protection of public lands. Projects in this category help bring important natural areas and resources back to their original functions by improving the self sustaining and ecological functionality of sites.
At the completion of Phase 2, a total of 275 acres of high-density, mostly ponderosa pine (some Douglas fir) was commercially harvested. This acreage was cut using a low-impact (ecologically) system consisting of a cut-to-length processor and self-loading forwarder; both of which avoid the usually dragging of trees on the landscape. In areas where machinery disturbed the substrate, crews followed the operation in the fall with ‘sling’ seeding native bunchgrass on those areas. Grass seed used in these areas were from locally-sourced populations collected and grown out in the Columbia Basin. The collection and grow out were part of Phase 1 of this restoration effort – Project #09-1399. The timber coming off the project site was sold to mills in Oroville, Omak, Kettle Falls, and Colville thereby aiding the local economy. Any income from the sale of timber was then rolled back into the project. In addition to commercially harvesting these stands, approximately 60 acres of overstocked ponderosa pine savanna were thinning by hand in areas where access was difficult and topography challenging. Utilizing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) prescribed burn team, crews would hike into these remote locations and hand fall typically < 10” dbh trees using chainsaws. The trees were then ‘bucked’ up and material scattered evenly throughout the unit to make a more consistent fuel bed prior to burning. Following fuels reduction (harvest and thinning) crews began to prepare the area for broadcast prescribed burning. In coordination with the prescribed burn manager, wildlife area manager and approval by the Department of Natural Resources a prescribed burn plan was drafted and approved followed by the obtaining of a burn permit and approval to release smoke into the air shed. A before mentioned WDFW crew hired specifically for implementing these burns dug hand lines, setup pumps & sprinkler systems, and prepare to ignite. In total, 495 acres were prescribed burn at the completion of this project. An additional 76 treated acres were planned to be burned in the spring of 2016 but were consumed by the Okanogan Complex Fires in August of 2015. [1000 acres of the 1100-acre project area burned during the Okanogan Complex Fire] A significant amount of these 76 acres burned similarly to what would have been expected during a prescribed burn. However, due to the amount of fuels on the ground following harvest of these units, most this acreage burned intensely and most trees retained after harvest were lost to the wildfire. In contrast to the loss of these stands, forests to the south that were treated and burned in 2013-14 sustained little to no wildfire damage. The Okanogan Complex Fire hit these sites and virtually stopped. Not only was this one of many intended benefits of the project but proved to be a very valuable visual during a legislative tour of the area to promote interest and additional funding for similar projects in the future. In addition to the on-the-ground work accomplished, various other projects and tasks were completed to implement the project and provide data to inform future efforts. These items include: Cultural Resources Survey – A cultural resources survey was completed in 2011 by Central Washington University. The survey consisted of a pedestrian survey and inventory of the project area which resulted in the recordation of 24 previously undocumented archaeological sites and isolates. The majority of which were newly recorded sites and isolates of historic land use with some pre-contact land use documented. The report helped identify sites to avoid adverse impacts on cultural resources in the project area. Fire History Analysis - The Sinlahekin Fire History Analysis Phase II was completed in June 2012. The goal of the study was to collect and date fire scars that will help determine the frequency and extent of both natural and/or intentional Native American ignitions that will help guide future forest management. The project yielded a total of 247 samples with 2728 fire dates was collected; the earliest fire scar determined was dated to 1511. Results indicate that fires in this area were primarily high frequency, low severity. Fire frequency varies from site to site with some areas indicating fires every 2 to 4 years; most likely due to Native American ignitions. Results will help land managers sustain healthy forests and lower the risk of catastrophic wildfires and insect outbreaks.