New Hope for Healthier Forests

Taylor Bridge Fire

The Taylor Bridge Fire started on Aug. 13 east of Cle Elum. It burned more than 36 square miles, or 23,500 acres, before being fully contained on Aug. 28. Sixty-one homes and 35 outbuildings were destroyed.

We at The Nature Conservancy’s Washington chapter extend our deepest sympathy to those suffering losses from the Taylor Bridge Fire. We’re so grateful to firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect us all.

Like many, we’ve been transfixed by the stories from the fire near Cle Elum, and we’ve appreciated the news coverage not only of the fire, but of the underlying conditions that are creating increasingly more devastating fires throughout the west.

A hundred years of fire suppression and failure to recognize the important role fire has played in natural forests – compounded by other management practices – have left our forests more susceptible to catastrophic wildfires and insect outbreaks. Central Washington is expected to get hotter and drier as our climate changes, further increasing fire risks.

The prescriptions: controlled burning after thinning to reduce fuel loads and promote a healthier mix of species; encouraging open spaces within the forests; and seeking ways for sustainably managed, healthy forests to produce revenues for local communities.

The good news is that we have some tools to address these big forest problems. The Nature Conservancy has been working for nearly 10 years with diverse partners and local communities to identify some of the most critically important private forestlands and buy them, then ultimately transfer them to public ownership so they can be jointly managed for forest health. 

Read more about our work in eastern Washington forests.

Through the Heart of the Cascades project and working with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, we’ve purchased about 20,000 acres in the Tieton and Naches regions and sold most of those lands to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife where they’re being managed for forest health, wildlife habitat and public access.

With partners we’ve created the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative to manage these forests for long term health. The goals are to reduce the risk of catastrophic mega-fire, ensure public access and protect resources like wildlife habitat and clean water. Partners in the Tapash include the US Forest Service, the state Department of Natural Resources, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Yakama Nation and the Conservancy.

The Tapash Collaborative also brings in sustained federal funding for forest restoration through a program called the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program. Tapash is eligible for funding for 10 years for large-scale restoration.

With CFLR funding as well as funding from the partner organizations, more than 27,000 acres in the Tapash landscape have been treated over the last two years.

This is the kind of collaborative effort that’s going to be necessary to reduce the risk to communities and ensure we have healthy forests in the future.


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