Since 2001, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in northeast Oregon has been using management-ignited prescribed fire as a tool in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Use of prescribed fire on 25,000 to 35,000 acres along the Minam River within the Wilderness was approved by the Minam II Environmental Assessment. The objective of the prescribed burning is to reduce fuel loadings and the potential for undesirable effects of a wildfire burning in heavy fuels that have built up because of fire suppression, and to diminish the risk of negative wildfire effects to private lands and other resource values. The Minam River area was chosen due to its proximity to private land holdings in the wilderness and its location near the wilderness boundary.
To-date nearly 12,000 acres have been burned in several entrees during both the spring and the fall. The prescribed burning is occurring primarily in Ponderosa Pine stands at lower elevations and in Douglas fir forest stringers at higher elevations. Using natural barriers and primarily aerial ignition the impacts to wilderness values and recreation opportunities have been minimized. Timing of the burns just prior to precipitation or other favorable weather has helped limit the duration of the burns. Very few personnel are involved, often only a lookout monitoring fire behavior. The prescribed burning has proven to be a very useful and cost effective management tool. The average cost of the burning has been $20-30/acre.
On the ground monitoring this spring has shown that fuel reduction strategies and ecosystem objectives are being met with the reintroduction of fire into these areas. In addition, there are also secondary benefits; including increased habitat diversity and quality forage production for wildlife. Another secondary benefit is the creation of buffer areas around private property and near the wilderness boundary; this helps to strengthen the Forest’s Wildland Fire Use program in the wilderness. Approximately 1,978 acres have burned in the Eagle Cap Wilderness through thirty different Wildland Fire Use events since 2001. Adding the use of management ignited prescribed fire has allowed for greater accomplishments in fuels reduction.
Based on the success of the Minam II prescribed burning project, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is developing plans for continued use of management-ignited fire as a tool in the nearby 100,000-acre Minam River project area in 2010.
For more information, contact Nathan Goodrich or Jenny Reinheardt, Wallowa Valley Fire Zone, (541)426-5583 or 5513.