OKANOGAN – The state Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to conduct controlled burns this spring on parts of three wildlife areas to reduce wildfire risks and enhance wildlife habitat.
Controlled burns could begin as early as late March on at least 300 acres of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area in Okanogan County and 200 acres of the Sherman Creek Wildlife area in Ferry County.
The burning schedule depends on weather conditions and approval from the state Department of Natural Resources.
Parts of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area in Yakima County may be treated later this spring if conditions allow.
The project areas range from grasslands to ponderosa pine stands that contain logging debris and slash, wildlife officials said.
Matt Eberlein, department prescribed fire manager, said controlled burns are monitored constantly until they are out. Signs will be posted to alert area residents, travelers and recreationists about the burns.
“Smoke could make its way into the Town of Kettle Falls, for example, or temporarily cut visibility on highways at night or early morning,” he said. “Motorists should use caution and watch for personnel, fire equipment and smoke on roads in the vicinity of the burns.”
Eberlein said recent wildfires in eastern Washington demonstrate the importance of conducting controlled burns. Burning brush, debris and other fuels reduces the risk of high-intensity wildfires that can destroy wildlife habitat.
“It’s not a question of whether we’ll have fires on these lands, but rather the degree to which we can reduce the damage they cause,” Eberelin said.
Eberlein said the department is coordinating with other agencies in the area to provide assistance with the burning, and is using private contractors with bulldozers and other equipment from local communities.