Public on hook for $millions when big, old boats sink

July 7, 2014
Uninsured, unmaintained once-fine-old tug hauled out of water before disposal.

Uninsured, unmaintained once-fine-old tug Chickamauga hauled out of water before disposal.

One of DNR’s priorities is to avoid expensive taxpayer-funded clean-up of large sunken vessels contaminating Washington’s public waterways. What we’re trying to avoid? One example: Last winter the Chickamauga—a hundred-year-old tugboat—sank in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, requiring more than $55,000 in state funding to haul and dispose of, and an unknown cost for clean up by the US Coast Guard of the leakage and pollution.

The costly sunken 70-foot Chickamauga was just one of many examples that prompted passage of a new state law that will help make a difference in the long term, and applies to both commercial and private vessels. The new requirements are designed to place responsibility on vessel owners, and significantly reduce the potential financial impacts to the public. This statute requires that owners have insurance for vessels 65-feet or longer and 40-years or older…and that marinas compel owners of vessels in their moorage to have insurance (although most marinas already have the requirement). Also required is an inspection of a vessel’s condition before the vessel is sold to a potential buyer.

Close-up detail of tug Chickamauga hull shows deeply rotted, unmaintained wood.

Close-up detail of tug Chickamauga hull shows deeply rotted, unsealed wood.

Washington State has had a rich and vigorous maritime history that continues today. With our thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of square miles of marine and fresh waters in the state, vessels of the mosquito fleet, tugboats, fishing boats, barges are important parts of our heritage. But sometimes, preventive care has not been taken as they age, and they are not inexpensive to care for.

“Preventing damage is so much less expensive than taking action after a calamity occurs. In recent years, the public has paid millions of dollars for hauling, cleaning up pollution and disposing of older, larger vessels that have sunk and contaminated the public’s aquatic lands,” said DNR’s Aquatic Division Manager Kristin Swenddal. “We want to address the problem earlier in the life cycle of these vessels, when it is less expensive.”

DNR’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program works with a vessel owner to take responsibility to deal with their at-risk or derelict vessel, and if necessary,  remove it from the waters before it sinks and endangers sea critters and habitat with oils and other contamination.

Kitsap Sun 2013 Article on the Chickamauga

Kitsap Sun 2014 Article on new law

UPDATE: Controlled burn at Mima Mounds planned for July 8

July 2, 2014
DNR and Nature Conservancy fire crews supervise a controlled burn to help restore prairie habitat at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve near Olympia. Photo: DNR

DNR fire crews supervise a controlled burn to help restore prairie habitat at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve near Olympia. Photo: DNR

UPDATE (July 7; 12:30 p.m.): The controlled burn is now planned for July 8 at Mima Mounds.

On July 8, if wind and weather conditions are favorable, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) may conduct a controlled burn at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. The project may be moved to next week or later this summer if weather conditions do not allow for safe burning on July 8.

Why burn?

Read the rest of this entry »

DNR helitack program gears up for quick, efficient, and safe suppression of wildfires

June 30, 2014
DNR Helitack crews are ready for wildfire season after training in Cle Elum last week. Photo: Janet Pearce

DNR Helitack crews are ready for wildfire season after training in Cle Elum last week. Photo: Janet Pearce

Have you noticed the media coverage recently buzzing about DNR’s Aviation and Helitack (helicopter-attack) Program? Both Yakima Herald and KAPP TV featured the program in stories over the past week.

Crews have been training in Cle Elum to get ready for the Fourth of July weekend. The long holiday weekend brings more people into the woods and wildlands, which increases risks of accidental fire starts. DNR firefighters want to be prepared.

Fighting fires from the air
DNR keeps seven helicopters staffed and ready to go each day throughout the state’s lengthy fire season. The specially trained crews are transported by helicopter into remote and rugged areas to fight wildfires. They are an important part of the DNR fire program because they can get to wildfires while they are small; a safer and more efficient way to put fires out is to suppress them before they grow into massive wildfires.

Large wildfires create a huge risk to health, human safety, and natural resources, but they also cost exponentially more to suppress as they grow in size. Since Helitack crews can be off the ground and enroute to a fire within five minutes of dispatch, they are a vital part DNR’s fire program. By using Helitack crews, we can more quickly and more effectively contain wildfires throughout the state.

Learn about the history and training of the DNR Aviation and Helitack Program on our website. Check out photos of crews in action, and find out what it takes to get one of these jobs.

Helitack crews train and prepare for wildfire season by July 4 Holiday. Photo: Janet Pearce

Helitack crews train and prepare for wildfire season by July 4 Holiday. Photo: Janet Pearce

You can help
Even though DNR Helitack crews are trained and ready for wildfires, we need people to be extremely cautious this holiday weekend and for the rest of the summer. Do your part to prevent wildfires this season by following these tips:

  • Never discharge fireworks on DNR-protected lands
  • Extinguish your campfire completely until it’s cool to the touch
  • Report any fire to 800-562-6010
  • Create defensible space around your home to help protect it from wildfire. Go to for more information.




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Small land transfer brings needed funds for Skamania County public services

June 30, 2014
Southwestern Washington State

Circled in red are two parcels (totally 42.5 acres) of forestland whose transfer into conservation status will provide $327,000 to Skamania County. Colored sections indicate other state trust lands managed by DNR. CLICK on PHOTO to see larger image.

How can changing a few words on the deed for a couple of small parcels of remote forestland provide welcomed relief to a struggling rural county? Thanks to a legislatively funded program, an additional $327,000 will be available for public services in Skamania County. The land in question is two parcels of forestland — 42.5 acres in all — that DNR manages for revenue to support public services in Skamania County. However, with that state-owned parcel encumbered by federal endangered species restrictions, it was unlikely that timber or other forest products would ever be harvested there.

A solution  Read the rest of this entry »

It’s National Lightning Safety Awareness Week — be careful out there

June 26, 2014

Lightning strikeWith summer officially here and the weather turning warmer (two events that do not always march in lockstep here in Washington State), there will be many more opportunities to get outside. Just remember that if you hear thunder, lightning is likely within striking distance. Did you know that lightning threats can extend 10 miles from the storm?

June 22-28 is National Lightning Safety Awareness Week.

Even if it means you have to take a break from playing or working outside, play it safe by remembering this little phrase: When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors! The National Weather Service advises waiting 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder before going back outside.

Learn more about lightning safety, myths, facts, science and more from the National Weather Service.


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You say ‘tsunami’ I say ‘tidal wave’ Who’s right?

June 23, 2014

If you say ‘tsunami’ to describe those immense swells of water that can reach 100 feet in height, travel at more than 500 mph, and are capable of causing widespread destruction, then you are correct. This short video from the TED-Ed series explains tsunamis and how they work.

A tidal wave, by the way, is simply what happens when the tide comes in from a body of water. Because they are caused by gravitational interactions between the Sun, Moon, and Earth, tidal waves are predictable events. Check out the Department of Ecology’s description of Puget Sound tides.

Tsunamis, on the other hand, are unpredictable, and frequently caused by powerful earthquakes under the ocean floor. This type of earthquake pushes a large volume of water to the surface, creating waves that become the tsunami. The waves may be small in the deep, open ocean, but get much bigger and more dangerous as they approach shallower coastal waters. A tsunami also can be triggered by a volcanic eruption, landslide, or other movements of the Earth’s surface.

We cannot prevent tsunamis (or tidal waves, for that matter) but we can take precautions — and we should because the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where two large tectonic plates are rubbing together, lies just off our coast

DNR and its Division of Geology and Earth Resources work closely with the Washington Emergency Management Division, federal agencies, and local governments to prepare maps of recommended tsunami evacuation routes for many coastal Washington communities. Local and state emergency officials rely on maps of earthquake faults, tsunami inundation zones, and other information to plan their responses to earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters.

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DNR Website Maintenance

June 21, 2014

June 21

Staff will be upgrading some of DNR’s online systems June 21.

The website and web based programs may not be available for use. In the meantime, please stay connected on our “Ear to the Ground” blog and/or other social media tools.


DNR’s social media sites:
“Ear to the Ground” blog
Fire Twitter
Facebook Fan page
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Look up! It’s the forest canopy (Part 2)

June 20, 2014
Forest canopy at Deception Pass

Forest canopy at Deception Pass. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

The canopy layer in the forest—the interacting tree crowns that create a remarkable maze of three-dimensional spaces between and on the branches—is a habitat niche with specialized functions for many species of wildlife. The surfaces of these branches and leaves provide shelter and food for a wide variety of arboreal (forest canopy inhabiting) mammals, birds and insects.

Arboreal mammals

Truly arboreal mammals are not as numerous as bird species, but are important members of the forest wildlife ecosystem. Our native conifer squirrels are the Douglas and red squirrels (members of the genus Tamiasciurus), locally known as chickarees. These two species are actually very similar, but occupy different habitat regions. Douglas squirrels are associated with wetter, westside type forests dominated by Douglas fir and hemlock. Red squirrels live on the drier and colder east side, as well as in Rocky Mountain forest types we have in Northeast Washington. Both are common and important mammal species directly tied to the forest canopy as conifer specialists, actively harvesting and caching cones each year. Who among us woods walkers hasn’t been scolded by one of these little dervishes?

Fungi (mushrooms), which help trees grow by adding root absorptive surface to trees, is food for squirrels. The squirrels spread spores throughout the forest through their feces. Flying squirrels occupy a similar niche, but work the night shift, often foraging on the ground for mushrooms to cache. For this reason, flying, Douglas and red squirrels can be considered keystone species in forest ecosystems, e.g., species whose presence has far-reaching impacts. These squirrels need canopy to provide hiding places and food, but also need down logs for cache sites, and woody cavities in snags for denning. Habitat for these squirrels also includes low branches for resting and eating cones dropped to the ground.

Caring for the Canopy    Read the rest of this entry »

Look up! It’s the forest canopy (Part 1)

June 19, 2014
Mature forest canopy, Upper Skagit River

Mature forest canopy, Upper Skagit River drainage. Ken Bevis/DNR

When we walk in the forest, we are dazzled and soothed by the leaves and needles of the trees above and around us. These surfaces — the photosynthetic factory of the forest — gather sunlight and pull carbon from the air to build themselves and all of the organisms that depend on trees.

When trees reach into the sky to form a canopy layer in the forest, the interacting crowns create a remarkable maze of three-dimensional spaces between and on the branches. The surfaces of these branches and leaves, known as the canopy, can be considered a habitat niche with specialized functions for many species of wildlife. Animals that live in trees — “arboreal” species — feed on the cones and seeds that trees produce. The surfaces of needles and branches also are home for insects, and hunting grounds for their predators. This complex habitat contains varying opportunities for wildlife to make a living by hunting insects, eating lichens, gathering seeds, or other taking specialized actions.

Birds in the canopy

Birds are the most obvious species to utilize this habitat niche, with rich varieties showing up at different times of the year. Some are resident, remaining in the same, or nearby, habitats year around, while others are migratory. Many of our migratory birds come back from the neo-tropics (that is, Central America and even South America) for breeding season, and return south in the fall.       Read the rest of this entry »

What good is a cottonwood tree anyway? (Part 2)

June 17, 2014
Black cottonwood

Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) is the largest of the American poplars and the largest hardwood tree in western North America. Photo: University of Washington

Today, we conclude yesterday’s blog, “What good is a cottonwood tree?”

What good is a cottonwood tree?There can be many reasons to dislike cottonwoods — low timber value, low BTUs of energy for firewood  use, and they can crowd out and shade new conifer plantations. But there are many reasons that these large poplars can be worthy additions to the landscape.

For starters it seems like every browsing and gnawing animal thrives on young cottonwood twigs, bark, cambium, and leaves. This includes a host of insects as well as the predatory birds and mammals that feed on them. Obviously, the water-loving cottonwood does well in riparian environments and, consequently, so do beaver, which use cottonwood for food, dam, and lodge building.

Being a deciduous species, cottonwood will root and stump-sprout when felled. Rabbits and hares feed extensively on cottonwood shoots and small stems; deer, elk, and moose are particularly fond of them as well. Ruffed grouse and poplar trees go hand-in-hand. Cottonwoods have large naked terminal buds that develop and persist through the winter months. During high snow events, grouse literally survive in those trees, roosting at night and feeding on these highly nutritious buds during the day.

The older large cottonwoods make excellent nest platforms for a variety of predatory birds. Eagles and ospreys commonly select large branches or broken-top cottonwoods as platforms for nest construction. Eagles frequently use cottonwoods for night roosts and for hunting perches. Great horned owls will commandeer other bird and squirrel nest platforms in cottonwoods and use them as their nest sites, as will red-tailed hawks.

In drier environments, cottonwoods will be relegated to stream bottoms and are often the only large tree for long distances. In these environments, turkeys (in particular the Rio Grande subspecies) select cottonwoods for night roosts. Without suitable night roosts some flocks of turkeys would likely disappear.       Read the rest of this entry »


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