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  • Hillary Heard

Helicopters aren't just for wildfires

You may have read a recent press release or interview about a pilot project between Wenatchee Valley Fire Department, Cascadia Conservation District, and the Washington State Department of Resources. These partner agencies have secured grant funds to treat the Methow Fire burn scar this fall in the hopes of crowding out invasive plants like cheat grass and re-establishing a native plant community that is more fire resilient. This means, you guessed it, using a helicopter.

Here in the valley, we are all familiar with the air show that occurs when there’s a wildfire in our foothills (you can read an earlier blog post about all those hard-working planes and helicopters that come to help ground crews during a wildfire event here). It turns out that helicopters are also the perfect tool for aerial treatment of the burn scars on our steep slopes.

We are learning how to do this type of treatment in our corner of North Central Washington, but we certainly aren’t the first to think up the idea. The partners are working with BFI Native Seeds out of Moses Lake who wrote a publication about this topic with the assistance from state and federal agencies like Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management among others.

The partners hope to learn from this study and mirror successful restoration practices that make the landscape more fire resilient and our communities safer. The idea is along the same lines as a shaded fuel break in the forests. Those types of treatments usually entail thinning trees and removing vegetation that is too dense under the tree canopy. The partner agencies hope that if we treat the heavy fuel loads of non-native grass (like cheat grass) it will have a similar result, making for a healthier and more fire adapted landscape which will slow the rate of spread of wildfire.

We’re also hoping that planting native grasses and forbs will help to stabilize the soil in the burn scar preventing erosion and debris flows after the fire. Native plants have a much deeper root structure than non-native grasses like cheat grass. Either way, grass will grow after the fire, we just hope to tip the scales in the favor native plants that are more fire resilient.

Here’s to trying new approaches and partnering with more agencies to make our communities safer from the threat of wildfire. The project even made the local news, please forgive the awkwardness in front of the camera, we are better outside!

Stay safe!


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