Sinlahekin Wildlife Area

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Washington's oldest wildlife area, this 23,000-acre site is under restoration by the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife to reduce fuels, increase wildlife habitat, and return fire to the landscape. In 2015, the areas that had been treated with prescribed fire helped stop the Okanogan Complex Fires from advancing.


Stopping Megafire in its Tracks

The Lime Belt Fire, part of the 2015 Okanogan Complex Fires reached into the Sinlahekin Wildlife Refuge, causing significant damage to some areas, but not others. What made the difference?

Controlled burns made the difference — between green and charred, between resilience and destruction. And once is not enough. While eventual maintenance burns are faster, less expensive, and produce less smoke, the need for fire never goes way.


Forests Need Fire

When most people think of wildfire, they think of dry forests — and there are 2.8 million acres in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest alone. But there is often little discussion of why these forests (and their inhabitants) actually need frequent, low-severity fire. 

  • Fire thins small ponderosa pines, creating larger, healthier trees with less competition for scarce water and nutrients.
  • Fire reduces ground litter allowing more understory vegetation to grow.
  • Heat from induces germination of buckbrush (mountain balm) which comprises over 50% of deer's winter diets.

For more on historic fire regimes and recent fires in the Methow Valley, check out this Conversation article.

Puget Sound Ecological Burn Program

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Within sight of the Capitol lies some of the last fragments of lowland prairie and oak woodlands in Western WA. Over the last 10 years, the Puget Sound Ecological Burn Program has brought together land managers and scientists to restore and protect the diverse wildlife and plants that call it home.


Landscape Scale Management

Although it doesn’t look like it today, fire-dependent lowland prairies once dominated the Puget Sound region, interspersed with oak woodlands and conifer forests. Years of habitat fragmentation, encroachment of invasive species, and lack of managed fire has reduced the extent of these ecologically important areas and impacted the wildlife that rely on them, including threatened and endangered species like the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and streaked horned lark.

Today, the partners of the Puget Sound Ecological Burn Program and a diverse group of land managers restore these prairies through active ecological management on a large scale in the south Puget Sound region and the San Juan Islands. By connecting and sharing resources over the entire region, the partners overcome challenges and are able to use fire as an essential and necessary tool for restoration.

Many of the burners in this collaborative program are trained biologists. This approach ties research and management together to improve knowledge and create better outcomes.


Diverse Collaboration

The Puget Sound Ecological Burn Program is one of the most active prescribed burn programs in the state, burning around 50 to 60 days a year between spring and fall and often with multiple burn crews a day. Success is tied to diverse interests coming together to recognize the strength of collaboration, including multiple agencies, organizations, and landowners.

Land-Managing Partners in the Puget Sound Ecological Burn Program include:

  • Center for Natural Lands Management
  • Joint Base Lewis McChord
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources
  • Wolf Haven International
  • Pacific Rim Institute
  • Whidbey-Camano Land Trust

Visit South Sound Prairies to learn more.

Eastern Washington National Wildlife Refuges

Eastern WA offers some of the most unique landscapes in the state, from shrub-steppe and desert wetlands, to Channeled Scablands and ponderosa pine forests. Managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, these refuges provide habitat for migrating birds, elk, beavers, ground squirrels and many other species.   


Sculpted by Nature

These diverse Eastern Washington landscapes were shaped by ancient forces of water, ice, and fire. Today, prescribed burning continues to be an important tool for managing these areas and providing essential habitat for wildlife.

Managed for Habitat

The Mid-Columbia Wildlife Refuge Complex is a series of wildlife refuges across Eastern Washington and Oregon providing important habitat for Washington’s shrub steppe and desert wildlife, as well as being an important stopover places for migratory birds, including lesser sandhill cranes — a long-lived bird with high loyalty to chosen stopover sites. At Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, land managers conduct prescribed burns along the edges of wetland areas to reduce organic materials and promote growth of new grasses, an important food source for the energetic demands of the migrating cranes. 

"Crane use has been more consistent due to the yearly prescribed fire treatments that maintain open habitat for this long-lived migratory bird."

— Heidi Newsome, Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex Biologist


Building Partnerships

Partnerships are essential to completing prescribed burning across the National Wildlife Refuges of Eastern Washington. At the Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge Complex local fire districts, the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service regularly assist with projects. This work has extended into important training opportunities with students at the University of Idaho and other partners. 

Engaging the Public

Just south of Spokane, sits Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, a unique refuge in the channeled scablands area of eastern Washington. Here the desert sagebrush transitions towards ponderosa pinealongside pocket wetlands. Within this refuge the Pine Creek Auto Tour takes visitors — about 60,000 to 70,000 per year — through the refuge and its diversity of habitats. Along the way, educational signs explain the benefits of prescribed burning in maintaining the landscapes in front of them.