Woodland owners face long road to recovery after a wildfire

wildfires can create hazard trees
Intense fire can weaken root systems that hold trees in place, creating a hazard for firefighters, property owners and others. Photo: InciWeb.

In the wake of this summer’s wildfires, many evacuated rural property owners are or will soon be returning home to assess damage and begin rebuilding.

Once emergency officials declare it is safe to go back into an area, use caution as local roads will likely be busy with trucks carrying wildfire fighting crews and equipment — the tasks of tending to fire lines, hot spots and performing recovery work can go on for months.

If you own property in addition to a residence, you will want to walk, ride or drive through the site for a preliminary assessment. First, look for anything that poses an ongoing danger. Potential hazards can include areas where the loss of trees and plants could develop into a landslide, areas where trees have burned at the base leaving them in imminent danger of falling, and areas where roots have burned out leaving holes — sometimes hidden under ash — that people or animals could fall into.

If you own woodlands as a source of income, the next step is to review your forest management plan. The area may look dramatically different after a fire. The plan’s maps and pictures will be helpful in assessing the damage to standing timber. The plan also can be a reminder of your objectives, giving context around which to rebuild at an emotional and difficult time.

Helpful publications for learning about post-wildfire rehabilitation include:

Agencies you to contact will include your local Conservation District, DNR, Washington State Department of Agriculture, and the USDA Farm Service Agency, Washington state.

Information you may need to provide to agencies as well as insurers will include how many of your acres burned, how completely they burned, your forest type (major tree species), the amount and type of fencing damaged or destroyed, and other important “metrics” that will help them to determine your recovery needs.

Prioritizing restoration work is important, too. Areas of attention may include fire lines that were cleared down to mineral soil and any other disturbed areas that can serve as entry points for invasive weeds.

Longer term, it’s a good idea to determine if the damage you suffered qualifies as “casualty loss” by checking the National Timber Tax website, which provides “Tax Management for Timberland Owners.” For information on Washington State taxes check the Department of Revenue website and search on “forest tax.”

Read more post-wildfire tips and other advice for forestland owners in Forest Stewardship Notes, a free e-newsletter published quarterly by DNR and Washington State University Forestry Extension.