Talk describes Cougar Creek Fire devastation


PEOPLE GATHERED at the Columbia High School library in White Salmon Dec. 11 to learn about the Cougar Creek Fire devastation.

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PEOPLE GATHERED at the Columbia High School library in White Salmon Dec. 11 to learn about the Cougar Creek Fire devastation.



The Mount Adams Cougar Creek Fire Forum on Dec. 11 was a success. Around 110 people attended on that dark and stormy night, almost filling the Columbia High School library in White Salmon. Darryl Lloyd, of Friends of Mount Adams, provided the following transcription of the event, saying, “This will be the first of several summaries that I’ll send out, based on an audio and visual recording that we made of the meeting. Here’s a recap of Steve Andringa’s presentation. Steve is Administrative Forester for the Yakama Nation. He managed the Yakama Nation Forestry Program for many years and is former manager of the Yakama Nation Mount Adams Recreation Area:

“The Cougar Creek Fire was the most devastating wildland fire on Yakama Nation lands in recent history.

“For the whole 53,500-acre fire, about $25 million was spent in direct suppression costs. In addition, the Yakama Nation spent $2 million for initial/extended costs and $1 million for emergency stabilization (replacing culverts, etc.). The cost to the Tribe for rehabilitation — mostly tree-planting — will be about $5 million. There will be other economic costs, such as salvage harvesting in depressed market conditions. Other values hard to quantify are water quality degradation, wildlife losses, etc.

“The area of the burn on the Yakama Reservation was about 41,500 acres. Almost 19,000 acres, or 45 percent, was in General Forest (commercial timberlands). Over 50 percent of that was moderate to severe burn intensity, or stand-replacement.

“Timber volume loss was about 800 million board feet of timber, or about 8 percent of the standing volume. Salvage is expected to yield 100 to 300 million board feet, generating somewhere between $20 to $40 million for the Yakama Nation. This is in the span of about 18 months.

“For reforestation, about 4 million seedlings will be needed for 9,000 to 10,000 acres. Plantings will consist of a mix of ponderosa pine (35 percent), western larch (30 percent), Douglas fir (20 percent), western white pine (10 percent) and Engelmann spruce (5 percent). The lodgepole stands that burned will come back naturally.

“The Yakama Tribal Council decided early on to salvage as much as possible to recover the timber value and support the local economy. The Tribe has a sawmill in White Swan.

“Planned salvage timber sales cover about one-third of the total area burned on the reservation, or about 14,000 acres. Sales are in large units of 4,000 to 5,000 acres each. About 70-80 percent of each unit is expected to be salvage logged. Logging started this fall in the Bird Creek Unit.

“Environmental assessment of some of the southern units has already been done. It will be expedited for the other units. Because of the Bureau of Indian Affairs involvement, the Tribe has to abide by the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and National Historic Preservation Act. Also the Yakama Nation Forest Management Plan, as well as Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

“The fire burned over half of the 16,000-acre Yakama Nation Mount Adams Recreation Area, or about 8,800 acres. Around 6,400 acres (or 73 percent) burned at moderate and high severity. Steve thinks the Recreation Area will remain closed to the public through 2016.

“Work planned will be removal of hazardous snags along roads and in campgrounds, repair of the drinking water system, and replacement/repair of the cattle drift fence. Cattle are expected to graze on Yakama Nation lands next year.

“For 2017, the Tribe hopes to open the area for day-use, at least for the trail systems. Campground recovery will begin with replacement of outhouses, picnic tables, fire pits, etc. For 2018, Steve hopes the recreation area will be open for camping again, but it may depend on how the public wants to use the area. People may not want to camp in heavily burned areas. Repairs will continue with an emphasis on public safety.

“This plan is subject to change, but it’s a snapshot for the next few years.

“Yakama Nation will continue with commercial and non-commercial treatments, including prescribed fire to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. However, active management ‘is no guarantee.’ Forest and fire management over the past 100-plus years have produced stand conditions ‘pretty far out of whack.’ Let fires re-burn dense lodgepole stands because “that’s what fires do.” Areas of the forest such as well-managed stands should be prioritized for management, to reduce the risk of stand-replacement fires.”



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