Springtime in the Okanogan brings a promising new prescribed fire program 

Springtime in the Okanogan brings a promising new prescribed fire program 

Conservation Northwest / Apr 06, 2022 / Forest Field Program, Forestry, Wildfire

New Department of Natural Resources plan will improve forest health and wildfire resilience


By Michael Liu, Okanogan Forest Lead

Springtime can mean a lot of different things to people. The return of songbirds, blossoming arrowleaf, longer days, and the opening of Highway 20 through the North Cascades.   

However, another definition for springtime is an early or flourishing stage of development.  Such is the case for prescribed burning by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). While their Forest Resiliency Division has been moving forward with progressive approaches to addressing climate change and forest health and catastrophic wildfire concerns, it has taken some time for them to begin using prescribed fire as a management tool.   

photo of fire crews doing prescribed burning
Fire crew conducting a prescribed burn in Okanogan County.

As a retired Forest Ranger, I understand. Implementing prescribed fire on the landscape is not as easy as it may sound. Applying fire to the right landscapes, at the right intensity, and at the right time takes analysis and planning.  It also takes training to make sure qualified staff are present, the weather is favorable for smoke dispersal, and adequate contingency resources are available in case the unexpected occurs. Add to that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and hectic fire seasons and it’s no wonder it has taken some time.  

Finally, the wait is over. In a recent news release, DNR announced their plan to launch their Prescribed Fire Program with a Cross-Boundary Burn in Okanogan County.

The benefits from the use of prescribed fire were known to the first peoples who used fire as a management tool for generations. When applied correctly, it can improve forest health and wildfire resilience by removing fuel buildup on the forest floor, raising crown heights on overstory trees, and killing smaller shade-tolerant trees that have been able to increase in the absence of fire. This means wildfires will behave more characteristically by burning with lower intensity in the drier forests of eastern Washington. In addition, forage conditions for wildlife will be improved and habitat for species like the white-headed woodpecker will be enhanced.

By partnering with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), DNR will be able to tap into the expertise of wildlife managers from WDFW and prescribed fire managers from BLM. Nice work DNR! The benefits will far outweigh a little smoke in the air. It is indeed springtime in the Okanogan and springtime for the prescribed fire program within DNR. 




picture of arrowhead balsamroot flowers in bloom
Springtime in the Okanogan brings blooming arrowhead balsamroot.