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Seeing Burned Trees from Winter Skis

While many of us spent New Years’ Day lazing in a vegetative slump, Matt Dahlgreen and his wife were busy skiing near Blewett Pass. Matt is a retired USFS forest ecologist and silviculturist and is now a forester with The Nature Conservancy, so he couldn’t resist taking a seasoned ecologist’s eye to survey the effects from the 2012 Peavine Fire. From his vantage on a ridge above Tronsen Meadow, Matt could see about a third of the 20,000 acres burned by the Peavine Fire. He used this expedition to photograph the area and then created a slideshow with commentary on his observations about fire behavior and fire management. 

In this slideshow, Matt reminds us that although the photos we saw most often during the 2012 Wenatchee Complex fires showed dramatic towers of smoke and flame, much of the area scorched by lightning fires actually burned modestly in small, slowly creeping patches. For instance, the Peavine Fire burned at low severity, crisping shrubs and saplings, but sparing many unburned patches in its wake. In growing seasons to come, this light burn should benefit forest health by providing new wildlife habitat and by decreasing competition between saplings and their elders. Matt speaks to fire’s ability to efficiently thin stands when he writes “With the exception of a single large Ponderosa, the trees killed by the fire were generally the same ones we’d have thinned by hand---for a lot of money”.

Of course, Matt also reminds us that fire is unpredictable. The Peavine did surprisingly spare some large stands of saplings while axing some established trees. Wildfire is a powerful and temperamental natural ecosystem feature, and it is one to be managed thoughtfully. Ultimately, his slideshow lauds the USFS for developing a firefighting strategy against the Peavine and Klone Peak (Entiat) fires that was based on “current and expected fire behavior”.

For ecologists and laymen alike, Matt’s slideshow is a worthwhile read with an informed perspective on how we might choose to manage fire-prone ecosystems. For more information on prescribed burning, take a look at the recent editorial Taming Fire with Fire.