A researcher collects fuel samples during a prescribed burn as part of Washington state’s forest resiliency burning pilot study.
U.S. Forest Service photo by Jim Cronan
After the large wildfire seasons of 2014 and 2015 in Washington, the state legislature tasked the Department of Natural Resources with conducting a forest resiliency burning pilot project. The goals included safely completing controlled burns in priority areas, giving 24-hour approval to burn manages to facilitate multi-day burns, monitor actual smoke produce against smoke forecast, and analyze fuel reductions. This large-scale, interagency effort involved about 15 prescribed-burn sites on state and national forest lands.
The Pacific Northwest Research Station’s AirFire Team was specifically solicited to provide the smoke monitoring and air quality data analysis for the project. Roger Ottmar, a research forester with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, led the effort to characterize the pre- and postfire fuels and assess postfire tree damage and mortality.
When the AirFire Team analyzed the air quality data collected at temporary and permanent monitoring locations, they found no appreciable difference between the standard day-of-approval burns and the 24-hour-approval burns. The pilot burn project seems to have been successful, resulting in minimal impact to air quality or impacts on par with non-pilot burns. The results of the project are being used to inform changes to the Washington State Smoke Management Program.
The final report on fuel levels and tree mortality following the burns contributed to a briefing paper that will be presented to the Washington State Legislature in 2018. The briefing paper will provide the information needed for Washington to develop a forest resiliency burning program that will maintain healthy forests and limit uncontrolled wildfires while protecting ambient air quality.