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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Living with Wildfire

by Carol Mack

It is one of nature's grand paradoxes that dead and dying trees are key ingredients of a healthy forest. Dead wood feeds and shelters an array of predators, keeping insects from multiplying to epidemic proportions - a natural pest control service much more finely tuned to natural cycles than human attempts to spray, trap, or sanitize. As wood decays, it sets the stage for friendly fungi, nutrient recycling and long-term sustainability. But wood also burns. As human forest dwellers increasingly take responsibility for reducing wildfire hazards around homes, the question arises, "How much dead wood is too much?" In our zeal to make our landscape more firesafe, are we tipping the balance by removing too many dead snags and down logs? For homeowners, the answer is fairly simple. It's the needles, slash and flashy fuels that cause most problems. Snags and down logs are usually not a fire hazard unless they are within 30 feet of the house. (Snags in the home landscape should be kept short enough not to be a safety hazard when they fall.) Farther into the forest, removing dead wood is generally not the focus of fuels reduction projects either. More often, the goal is to thin the understory trees, mimicking the effect of once-frequent wildfires and increasing the odds that the remaining overstory trees will survive a blaze. But fuels management is particularly complicated here because of the complexity of our Pend Oreille forests. From the air, our landscapes look like salt and pepper. Dry ponderosa habitats on southern aspects are sprinkled amongst the wetter forest types just around the hill to the north. Superimpose the episodic snag-creating events like the 2001 December ice storm, and our mixed history of logging and fire, and it is clear that fuels management plans need to be individually tailored for each situation. Join with us as we approach the job of learning to live with wildfire, and maintaining the rich wildlife habitat of our Pend Oreille forests.

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