Wildfire Corner: Be Ember Aware!

Flamable dry plant matter
Dried plant matter and the peat moss often found in hanging baskets are extremely flammable. Photo: Guy Gifford

It is time to go on vacation but before you leave, ask yourself: Will my home survive a wildfire? I’ll share with you some simple things you can do right before you go on vacation to decrease the chance of your home burning should a fire occur in your neck of the woods while you’re away.

Embers, not flames, from wildfires are what ignites most of the homes that burn during a wildfire. Embers are small pieces of burning vegetation that are carried into the air and can often land over a mile away. Another way to look at embers is as matches falling from the sky. So what can a homeowner do before going on vacation, or at any time? Here are a few tricks that take less than 15 minutes to implement.

Focus on the Home Ignition Zone

When talking fire, we call the area around your home the Home Ignition Zone, which consists of three smaller zones. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on what is called the “Immediate Zone,” where ember awareness is critical. This zone is defined as the area your house sits on plus 5 feet on any side (click here to learn about the other parts of the home ignition zone).

In the Immediate Zone, it is very important to get rid of anything that a wandering ember could ignite. One way to think of this when looking around your Immediate Zone is: Could a single match get a fire started here? If the answer is yes, remove that material!

Some common items we see in the Immediate Zone that an ember could ignite are:

  • Newspaper in a recycle bin
  • Woodpiles
  • Cardboard
  • Dry leaves and needles
  • Door mats made from flammable material.
  • Wood decking (click here to learn more about wood decking)
  • Containers with dead plants (many hanging planters contain peat moss, which easily ignites)
  • Dead plants
  • Any other flammable material

While this list may seem long, the process of identifying and removing fire ignition hazards is easy: Simply walk around your house and look for anything that could catch fire if an ember landed on it. When you find something remove it.

Today I walked around my house and storage sheds and found a pair of cotton gloves, some 2x4s, and a pile of dry leaves. I put the gloves and 2x4s in the shed; the leaves I raked up and put in my compost bin (which is 30 feet from my house). Within 15 minutes I had completed a fire safety check for potential ember hazards around my house. Now I can leave knowing that I have reduced the chance of an ember burning my house down.

Are there more things you should do to protect your home from the next wildfire? There are lots of other tasks you could do in the other parts of the Home Ignition Zone, but they take longer than 15 minutes. Some tasks are better to do in different seasons.

Keep an eye out for the next installment of Wildfire Corner, where we will discuss the other ignition zones — the Intermediate Zone (5 to 30 feet from the home) and the Extended Zone (30 to 100 feet or more) — and the prevention goals for each in more detail. For now, make sure you check your Immediate Zone before you go on your summer vacation.

Whether it’s just for the weekend or a two-week road trip, always remember to do your fire safety check!

Check out this website for more information on the Be Ember Aware program.

By Guy Gifford, landowner assistance forester and fire prevention and Firewise coordinator, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Northeast Region, guy.gifford@dnr.wa.gov

Enhancing Recreation on Small Woodlands

Photo: Jeffrey DeBell
Photo 1: This newly built trail will allow the owners to comfortably descend steep slopes to the lower part of their property, something they almost never did without the trail. Photo: Jeffrey DeBell

In surveys of family forest owners and their motivations, the top-ranked reasons for owning woodlands usually involve things like enjoying nature, privacy and tranquility, seeing wildlife, and just getting away from the noise and pace of urban life. These activities and goals can be grouped under the broad umbrella of recreation, which may include everything from traditional activities such as camping or hiking to the more recent idea of “forest bathing” imported from Japanese culture.

One way of thinking about recreation is in terms of providing experience. When you think about experience, it is important to include people in the equation, because the best experiences are a combination of enjoying the woods as well as the company of friends and family. Enhancing experience is another objective that can be integrated with goals such as keeping the woods healthy, enhancing wildlife habitat, generating income, minimizing fire risk, etc.

There is not a great deal of information available that specifically focuses on enhancing woodland experience, but it can mostly be accomplished using techniques already familiar to woodland owners, such as planting, managing understory vegetation, thinning, pruning, and harvesting trees. To help you think about the planning considerations, a useful place to look is large public gardens, which have some characteristics relevant to managing recreation on woodland properties. For instance, the goals are similar – creating an enjoyable experience among plants and the natural world. Also, the scale of public gardens, often in the tens of acres, is similar to that of many woodlands.

The need to tend the property in order to favor desired plants and suppress undesired plants exists in both the gardens and the woods. There are certainly important differences as well, such as in how the properties are financially supported, frequent use of irrigation and fertilizer in gardens, and the number of people to be accommodated, but some of the design concepts from public gardens translate well to family owned woodlands.

The following ideas can be used to enhance the experience of being in the woods on your property. These are not intended to be separate from other management activities that you have planned, but rather another set of considerations to work into the overall decision. The art of forestry is not in the technical knowledge required to maximize specific objectives, but in the ability to weave together the tradeoffs of different options to achieve the best overall balance for your goals.


Think About Who, What and When

It is useful to start by thinking about who will be using the area, what they will be doing, and when this will happen. Knowing these things will help clarify needs. For instance, you might modify trail design to better accommodate people who would have difficulty with steeper or more rugged conditions. A track to ride mountain bikes would set up differently than a route for riding horses. And camping in cold or wet conditions might lead you to design the site a little differently than if it were only used in warm, dry weather.


Create Contrasting Conditions

It will be more interesting to visit different parts of your property if there are a variety of conditions to see. In forestry, we refer to these contrasting areas as stands, while in garden design they are often thought of as “rooms” having differing themes. If you are lucky, your property may already have a lot of variation. However, it is common on small parcels to have fairly uniform conditions across the whole ownership. If your property consists of older trees and dense woods, then it is fairly easy to create variation. You can use harvesting to introduce areas with young trees and open conditions, or thinning to establish contrast between dense patches where the overstory trees dominate and more widely spaced areas where enough light makes it through the crowns to allow a lush understory.

If your property is currently covered in very young forest, the options are more limited, but you can still use planting of different tree or shrub species to create patches with differing appearances or character. It is very important to think about scale when defining areas, and to size the areas appropriately for your property. On a small parcel, each area might only be 1 or 2 acres, while if you own a hundred acres, you could have zones of 5 to 20 acres. Creating contrast is not only useful for human interest, but also for wildlife use. If it looks and feels different to you, it often has different values for wildlife as well. Increasing the number of forest conditions typically increases the number of wildlife species that will be present on your property.


Identify Special Places

Even the smallest woodland properties normally have some unique features or places. The analog in garden design is focal points. These are things that draw our eye or encourage us to move to explore the area in more detail. Examples might include a particularly large or picturesque tree, a moss-covered log or rock, a patch of a favorite woodland plant, or perhaps a spot with a view to the distance. Sometimes, a place can be special not because of its physical characteristics but because of memories of things that happened there. Examples might be the memory of camping or picking berries or sitting around the campfire with family or friends. Regardless of whether it is a physical feature or memories of past experiences, these spots add character to the woods and enrich the experience of being there.


Provide Access and Wayfinding

The most important step toward enhancing woodland experience is making it easy to get around in the woods and find your way from one area to the next. Public gardens are very good at this, and always have a well-maintained system of paths with maps showing how the paths connect the different areas of the garden. If you do nothing else to improve recreation, build trails, even if they are very short to begin with. It will make a huge difference in how often you walk through your woods (See Photo 1).

Better yet, it will make it possible for others who may struggle with moving through the brush, such as the youngest and oldest members of the family, to join you in the experience. Trails should be designed with both the users and the use in mind. If the trails will be used by anyone who is not very familiar with the property, then it is helpful to having signage or marking at intersections and periodically along the route. These should relate to an overall map, and can simply be colored routes or can be named for features or places that they visit. Actually naming the different areas and spots will make this easier, and will create an easy way to communicate where you are going.

When designing your trail system, it is important that it take you to all of the different contrasting areas and special places. You may not be able to build trails to get you to all of these places right away, but if you plan it that way at the start, then you will end up with a better system as you are able to build it out over time. A great place to get started with thinking about trails is a publication called “Trail Design for Small Properties” by Mel Baughman. A free copy of the publication can be downloaded from the University of Minnesota’s digital conservancy website. You also can find Baughman’s book in several formats by searching on the internet.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
Photo 2: Trimmed brush and pruned trees at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello echo his ideas for aesthetic enhancement. In this case, a lawn was planted (to be consistent with his writings), but leaving natural ground cover intact would maintain more of the natural woodland character while providing the open views into the woods that many people prefer. Photo: Jeffrey DeBell

Improve Visibility

When social scientists study human preferences for forest appearance, they find that most people like open, park-like areas, where they can see a distance into the woods. However, in many areas, the understory is a thicket of dead branches and brush, making it hard to see though, let alone walk through. When not busy with getting our country started, Thomas Jefferson gave some thought to this, and suggested that the woods could be made more beautiful by thinning out some of the dense underbrush and pruning up the trees. He even specified that this be done in an area of his woods at Monticello (see Photo 2). A word of caution is in order with this idea, because if taken too far, it can degrade wildlife habitat, be extremely expensive, and actually undermine the very goal of enhancing beauty. If done thoughtfully, however, it is compatible with maintaining wildlife habitat, can link nicely with FireWise principles, and enhance the beauty of your property.

The idea is to create some vistas through the woods by removing the taller brush along a sight line while leaving the lower understory, below knee height, intact. These vistas should be located to provide views from trails or areas where you expect to spend time. Done in this way, much of the taller shrub layer, which is important for habitat, is left intact across most of the property, and costs are minimized. The vistas where the shrubs are removed can curve off in the distance, suggesting that they continue farther than they actually do.

If you are doing this thinning near a structure on a woodland property, removing shrubs and pruning up trees dovetails nicely with FireWise recommendations. A useful reference to help strike a balance is “Wildlife-Friendly Fuels Reduction in Dry Forests of the Pacific Northwest” by Nicole Strong and Ken Bevis, which is available online. While this publication is targeted toward dry forests, the ideas can be adapted for creating vistas in any forest type.


Make Resting and Gathering Spots

Resting and gathering spots can serve several purposes. Resting spots can be used to break up a longer hike into smaller pieces, making it easier for those with less endurance to join you on your walks. Gathering spots can be places to enjoy the company of family and friends. Think of sitting around the campfire or playing a game of horseshoes. Having such places ensures the ability of everyone to participate, regardless of their physical abilities to join you in other areas of the woods.

eating along a trail
Photo 3: Seating along a trail made by cutting rounds from a log is simple and inexpensive. Photo: Jeffrey DeBell

Finally, making some spots to sit quietly will help you appreciate the woods in a way that doesn’t happen as much when you are moving. If you sit very quietly for a while, you will find that the birds begin to sing more and flit around, and you may even have other wildlife move past you if you are quiet and the wind doesn’t reveal your scent. Places to rest and gather can range from very simple seating (see Photo 3) to a picnic or camping shelter that will keep you dry during rainy weather.


Plan Activities That Create Connection

The more time you spend with friends and family in the woods, the more the connections to the woods and to each other will be strengthened. The steps described above will help to make those experiences more enjoyable, but you still have to get out there and spend time. So even when you have work to do on your land, be sure to reserve some time every day you’re there to just relax and enjoy your surroundings. If you have kids along, set up activities like scavenger hunts to get them involved with exploring and becoming familiar with the natural world. And of course, sit around the campfire every evening you can without getting too close to periods of high fire danger. As the REI marketing slogan urges, opt outside, and do that on your own land as much as possible!

By Jeffrey DeBell, forester, Cascade Woodland Design, jeff.debell@cwd-forestry.com 

Playing the “License Plate Game” with Native Trees

Summer weather is here. Time for a road trip!

We have all played the “license plate game” whereby occupants in the car on a long road trip keep track of how many out of state license plates they see. This game is enjoyed by all, but mostly children and grandchildren, so why not make it a forestry game with trees?

Here in Washington and the rest of the Pacific Northwest from western Montana to the Pacific Ocean and from British Columbia to central California we enjoy a whole host of wonderful native trees. You know them, from ponderosa pine and western larch to the east, Douglas-fir and western hemlock to the west, Alaska yellow cedar in the north, alder and birches near our rivers and streams, and big redwoods, sequoias, and sugar pines in California.

Why not make it a game? Who can identify the most tree species from common to rare along our highways? Are you aware that forestry students start learning tree species by looking at the leaves, needles, and cones, but in practice they quickly identify trees by their crown-shape, stature, and bark characteristics. Why not learn to recognize and identify trees by these characteristics?

Caution: If you play this game, get off the interstate! It is really hard to look at trees going 70 mph with a behemoth 18-wheeler pushing you along.

My personal favorite Washington route for tree touring is State Route 20, from Discovery Bay on the Olympic Peninsula to Newport near the Idaho border, 440 miles of great scenery and tree watching.

Other excellent routes are: US Route 2 from Everett to Newport; US Route 12 from Aberdeen to Clarkston; US Route 101, highlighting the Olympic Peninsula, via a meandering course from the Astoria Bridge to Olympia; US Route 97 from the international border near Oroville south to Maryhill; and last but not the least, State Route 14 from Vancouver to Plymouth. Of course any paved or gravel road in our national forests is sublime as well.

Happy travels watching the trees this summer!

Generalized locations of predominant tree species in Washington state (Click the table to download)


Need a bit more help?

Washington State University Extension has excellent free or inexpensive publications and other resources to help you get started. Listed below are a few publications easily accessible from the web.

Trees of Washington by Milton M. Moser & Knut Lunnum. This venerable classic is still available from WSU and has been since 1951. Over 19,000 copies have been sold and many more downloaded from the web.
Native Trees of Western Washington by Kevin Zobrist. A contemporary (2014) book illustrated by wonderful color photographs.
Eastern Washington Tree Identification and Silvics – Online Module by Carol Mack. This educational module provides an introduction to native trees in eastern Washington forests.
A Guide to Washington State’s Urban Tree Canopy by Charles A. Brun, Catherine Daniels, & Tim Kohlhauf. This guide book lists many introduced and native species found in our cities and towns. It’s included here for folks who will spend their summer near home.

By Donald Hanley, Extension Forester Emeritus, Washington State University

Cost-Share for Forest Management Plans in Chehalis River Watershed

Chehalis River Watershed
Chehalis River Watershed. Image courtesy of Washington State University

Draining over 2,500 square miles of land and comprised of eight major sub-basins, the Chehalis River Basin is among the largest watersheds in Washington. In fact, it is second in size only to the Columbia Basin. Due to its size, importance, and the diverse demands for water within it, the Chehalis River Basin has been identified as a priority area for protection by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Healthy forests produce many things, including healthy water, and taking advantage of that ecosystem service is important tool for protecting a watershed. The Chehalis River Basin contains some of the most productive forestland in the world, and much of it is divided into small, private parcels owned by proud forest stewards. To encourage this forest stewardship (and a healthy watershed) throughout the area, the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office has created a cost-share initiative for forest owners in the basin interested in having forest management plans written for their property by professional foresters. Here’s how it works:

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Property must have a minimum of 40 forested acres;
  • Majority of contiguous property must be located within the Chehalis River watershed;
  • Property owner must be a person or entity other than the federal, state or county government; and
  • Property owner must own a total of no more than 5,000 forested acres within the state of Washington.

Plan Requirements:

  • Plan contents must meet the Washington State Integrated Forest Management Plan Guidelines (revised March 2017) and be approved in writing by a designated representative of DNR;
  • Plan must be prepared for a fee by a private sector professional consulting forester; and
  • Written cost share approval must be issued by DNR before plan is written.

Cost Share Rates:

  • 40-100 forested acres: 50% share, not to exceed $900
  • 101-250 forested acres: 50% not to exceed $1,100
  • 251-500 forested acres: 50% not to exceed $1,500
  • 501-1,000 forested acres: 50% not to exceed $2,000
  • 1,000+ forested acres: 50% not to exceed $2,800


Approved landowners whose plans meet the program requirements will be reimbursed for 50 percent of the consulting forester’s fee.

Stewardship plans give landowners valuable information, such as current forest health conditions, wildlife habitat enhancement ideas, timber harvest opportunities, and management recommendations to meet your objectives as a forest landowner. Perhaps most importantly, a plan provides a tangible document that serves as a focal point of discussion with other stakeholders in the property, such as heirs, and can stimulate discussion about forest management with friends, family, and neighbors. Additionally, Washington’s Integrated Forest Stewardship Plan helps landowners meet written forest management plan requirements for American Tree Farm System, Natural Resource Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Washington Department of Revenue Designated Forest Land Tax Program (county assessor requirements for obtaining designated forestland land use classification) as well as the DNR Forest Stewardship Program.

To apply for this cost-share program contact Matt Provencher at the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office at matt.provencher@dnr.wa.gov or (360) 902-1494.

Patrick Shults, Extension Forester, Washington State University, patrick.shults@wsu.edu
Matt Provencher, Stewardship Forester, Washington State DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, matt.provencher@dnr.wa.gov

Announcements, Events and Other News

If you are reading a paper copy of this newsletter, links for these events can be found at the WSU Extension Forestry website: http://forestry.wsu.edu

Forest Stewardship Coached Planning

If you own wooded property, our flagship course will teach you how to assess your trees, avoid insect and disease problems, and attract wildlife. State experts will help you develop your own Forest Stewardship Plan to keep your woods on track to provide enjoyment and income for years to come.

  • Carnation (formerly in Preston) – Wednesdays starting September 5
  • Chehalis – Mondays starting September 17
  • Arlington – Tuesdays starting September 18

2018 Invasive Forest Weed Control Field Practicums

At these field-based, hands-on practicums you will learn to identify and control some of the most common invasive weeds that cause economic and environmental damage in forests. The practicums cover both chemical and non-chemical control options.

2018 Forest Owner Field Day

The annual Family Forest Field Day attracts hundreds of landowners from all around the region to learn about a variety of forestry topics in a hands-on setting, including forest health, wildlife habitat and management, thinning and pruning, chainsaw safety, noxious weed management, and many more.

  • Woodland (westside) – Saturday, August 18

Ties to the Land

Ties to the Land is an award-winning succession planning workshop offered by WSU Extension. Workshop participants learn about the legal and economic aspects of transferring a farm, forest, or ranch from one generation to the next.

Other Events

  • Look for a workshop on alder management and markets coming to Pacific County in late October (details coming!).

Can’t find the event you were looking for? Visit http://forestry.wsu.edu or contact: patrick.shults@wsu.edu