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King County aims to create healthier forests, prevent wildfire spread

Field work conducted Wednesday aligned with the "forest resilience" branch of the county's new Wildfire Risk Reduction Strategy.

MAPLE VALLEY, Wash. — The Bolt Creek Fire brought the wildland-urban interface, areas in which the wilderness and developed land intersect, to top of mind as people evacuated nearby while a forest burned. 

The King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks said it has employed a number of techniques to ensure forest resilience, which is one piece of the puzzle to preventing fires from spreading quickly.

Wednesday, Natural Resource crews in the Peterson Lake Natural area did follow-up work after planting nearly 15,000 native conifer trees.

"When we talk about forest resilience in the context of wildfire, we need healthy forests, meaning the trees are growing well, and diverse forests, which means a lot of different species," Lead Forester Paul Fischer said. "But also diversity in age, classes and size classes."

Follow-up work to the planting included cutting back competing vegetation, spraying non-pesticide deer browse repellent and ensuring trees got enough sunlight to grow.

Fischer said King County's approach focuses on forest resilience because the techniques that are often used in eastern Washington don't work the same in this part of the state. 

"There's not much management action we can take to dramatically change the fire risk and fire severity, in a way that we can do under-burning and prescribed burns, and fuels reduction treatments, cutting trees and dry brush in eastern Washington," Fischer said. "The best thing we can do is have healthy, diverse, variable forests, and the better job we do with that, the better [situation we'll] have with forest conditions."

Fischer said the county also focuses primarily on emergency preparedness, defensible space around homes, firewise principles and related concepts.

Fischer said the county expects more fires as the area faces the effects of climate change and more people could be susceptible because of development in King County.

"A lot of King County is in this wildland-urban interface and it's growing mostly because of development, pushing into the further extents of the forest," Fischer said. "Population growth is likely to continue, we're likely to see more of this."

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