Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

Wet weather can trigger shallow landslides – Do you know the warning signs?

December 9, 2015

The heavy rains forecasted this weekend may cause more than just localized flooding and higher river levels. Prolonged or intense rainfall increases the chances of shallow landslides on hillsides and other steep slopes. During these rain events, some of the rainwater flows across the surface to nearby streams and rivers, some is captured by plants and other vegetation, and some of the water infiltrates the ground. With enough rainwater infiltrating the ground, soils can weaken and slide.

Image of a shallow landslide that initiated during a prolonged and intense rain event in Thurston County. (Image Courtesy of Stephen Slaughter, DNR)

Image of a shallow landslide that initiated during a prolonged and intense rain event in Thurston County. (Image Courtesy of Stephen Slaughter, DNR)

Think of building sand castles with buckets on the beach–with the right amount of water, the grains of sand bind together to form a near-perfect cast of the bucket, but if too much water is added, the sand cannot hold its form and collapses under its own weight. Soil saturation has a similar result on a steep slope. With enough rain, the soil becomes saturated and begins to lose strength, increasing the chances of a landslide.

The geology of western Washington — steep slopes and soils — make this landslide country but with the right conditions, steep slopes in eastern Washington are vulnerable, too. Lots of rain, combined with failing drainage systems and development that increases surfacewater runoff near steep slopes, can be landslide triggers on both sides of the Cascades.

DNR’s Chief Hazard Geologist Tim Walsh explains:


Warning signs of an impending landslide

If you live on or near a steep slope, here are some warning signs of potential slope instability:

  • Cracks forming in your yard, driveway, sidewalk, foundation or in other structures.
  • Trees on slopes, especially evergreens, start tilting.
  • Doors and windows suddenly become more difficult to open or close.
  • Water begins seeping from hillsides, even during dry weather.

If you see any of these early signs of a potential landslide, immediately contact your city or county.

Useful links


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DNR part of effort to improve safety for loggers

November 17, 2015

As the largest landowner in the state (other than the federal government), DNR’s responsibilities go beyond managing Washington’s trust lands for wildlife habitat and sustainable revenue for state trust land beneficiaries: we also are working to improve safety for those who work in the woods. That’s why we are onboard with the Logger Safety Initiative.

Logging is historically one of Washington’s most hazardous industries — one where workers, particularly in non-mechanized logging jobs, suffer serious injuries much more often than in any other major industry. It’s also an industry where employers face accelerating workers’ compensation insurance costs. That’s why DNR, along with the Washington Contract Loggers Association, Washington Forest Protection Association, Department of Labor & Industries, numerous private land owners and private logging companies, formed the Washington State Logger Safety Initiative. The goal of this effort is to promote occupational safety, reduce fatalities, and decrease workplace injuries in the logging industry.

We all use products made of wood, so looking out for the workers who help bring us those products is the right thing to do.

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Cougars on state trust lands

October 29, 2015
cougar kittens

If you see this in the woods: don’t touch and don’t hang around! Although alone at the time, these four cougar kittens were not orphans, and quite likely mom was very close by. Photo: DNR.

Felines live all around us in Washington state’s wild areas, including state trust lands managed by DNR. We’re talking about bobcats, lynx and cougars–the largest North American feline.

Also known as mountain lions or pumas, the exceptionally powerful legs of Puma concolor enable it to leap 30 feet from a standstill, or jump 15 feet straight up a cliff wall. The cougar’s strength and powerful jaws allow it to take down and drag prey larger than it is, according to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Living with Wildlife webpage on cougars. While it is estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 cougars in Washington state, these large predators can be found in pretty much any rural or semi rural area where cover and large prey — including deer — are in abundance.

Adult males average approximately 140 pounds but can be as large as weigh 180 pounds, measure 7 to 8 feet long from nose to tip of tail and stand about 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Adult female cougars average about 25 percent smaller than males.

Sometimes, people hiking through thickly wooded or brushy areas come across cougar kittens, such as those seen in the photo with this article, and assume that they are orphans because the mother is not around. Don’t be fooled. Cougar kittens stay with their mothers for 12 to 19 months after their birth. While she hunts, the mother will leave the kittens in a ‘daybed’ which can be a cave but in less-mountainous areas can be a thickly forested area, a thicket or under large roots or fallen trees. And if you are hanging around when she returns…. well, re-read the paragraph about their strong jaws and leaping abilities. The fact is that while stronger than humans, cougar-human encounters almost never turn out well for the cougar. If you spot a cougar and have concerns, contact your local state wildlife office or, if it’s an immediate emergency, call 911 or any local law enforcement office. And never, ever touch one of those cute cougar kittens.

Cougars are among the many species of animals that live on the more than 2 million acres of DNR-managed forested trust land which, in western Washington, is managed under a comprehensive habitat conservation plan.

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Black trees, green trees, ash pits and other hazards after a wildfire

September 25, 2015
kettle fire

A void is left under this tree after its roots partially burned away in the Kettle Fire in northeast Washington state this summer.

Wildfires in forested areas can leave behind a lot more than ashes and burnt limbs. Trees that are still standing, as well as the remains of those consumed by flames, can pose dangers to workers, hikers, hunters, trail riders and others for months if not years after a wildfire.

Ash pits: Ash pits are created by when trees and stumps and their root systems are burned away. Insulated by layers of ash and debris, embers remaining inside these pits can stay hot enough to burn flesh for weeks. Falling into an ash pit or stepping into one can cause serious burns, so warn your family and neighbors to keep clear of these pits and make sure that children and pets are kept away, too.

Black trees: With so many thousands of acres of forestland in Washington state burned this summer, there will be an abundance of fire-killed trees to watch out for on the landscape. The US Forest Service’s Forest Health Protection program warns that conifer trees, especially firs, that died in a wildfire are especially susceptible to toppling over about three to five years after the fire. Keep clear of these snags, and be especially alert whenever the wind blows or the snow falls.

Green trees: Monitoring by the US Forest Service reveals that surviving trees — those with green crowns but visible fire damage — may start to fail (fall or drop large limbs, that is) in as little as three years after a fire. If the bark on the trunk has been burned off or scorched by very high temperatures completely around the circumference, the tree is unlikely to survive. The failure rate of green trees with fire damage increases dramatically by the fourth year after a fire as additional damage from opportunistic wood-dwelling insects takes it toll.

If any of these hazards are present, approach a landscape cautiously and consider an alternate route.

If these hazards exist on your property, seek advice from a consulting forester or a certified arborist. Washington State University Extension’s wildfire website lists many resources for farm and woodland owners. The University of Idaho Extension publication “After the Burn” digs deep into post-wildfire land care, from damage assessment to salvage logging to replanting ground cover and new trees.

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Washington wildfires: Avoiding post-disaster fraud

September 12, 2015

wildfire- su.jpgNatural disasters often bring out the best in people, but they also can be opportunities for fraud. Residents affected by this year’s wildfires in eastern Washington state, as well as those seeking to help them, need to be on watch for the scams and schemes that seem to always follow large natural disasters.

The latest issue of Forest Stewardship Notes, a free e-newsletter published by DNR and WSU Forestry Extension, warns that some offers of help with timber harvest salvage, woodlot restoration, debris removal and other recovery activities may not be on the up-and-up.

“There is no licensing requirement for a consulting forester in Washington and literally anyone can advertise as such,” Steve McConnell, a WSU Extension forestry specialist, and Dean Hellie of Stevens County Conservation District write. They recommend that anyone planning to work with a consulting forester first do some due diligence.

First, make sure the person is legitimate. Find a consulting forester who was in business before the fire hit. Look for one who is a member of the Association of Consulting Foresters and/or the Society of American Foresters—associations with codes of ethics focused on professionalism and adhering to the landowner’s best interests.

Another resource is the Washington Farm Forestry Association, which has chapters throughout the state. Its members have a wealth of practical knowledge about the forest management that works in your area, and what does not.

Debris clearing and charity scams

Another scam that tends to surface following natural disasters involves debris clearing. These scammers often ask for money up-front, and then disappear. If they do pick up your debris, they might just dump it on a neighbor’s property, in a park, or along a roadside, which could leave you responsible for the costs and penalties of cleaning it up legally.


Woodland owners face long road to recovery after a wildfire

September 6, 2015
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.

Please take every precaution during this severe wildfire emergency

August 20, 2015
Coulee Hite fire i

The Coulee Hite fire in early August threatened more than 50 homes near Spokane before it was contained. Photo courtesy of Fire Chief Nick Scharff, Spokane Fire District 10

With firefighting resources stretched and more unstable weather, including gusty winds, moving into the state’s eastside, we can’t say it enough times: Please be extremely cautious and take every available precaution to protect your families, pets, and treasured possessions from wildfires during this current emergency. That includes taking evacuation orders and emergency directions with the utmost seriousness and doing everything possible to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Under the current weather conditions, fires are developing quickly. If you feel endangered by an approaching fire: evacuate immediately. Please resist the temptation to hunker down and fight fires and please do not wait for firefighting resources that may not be immediately available. And don’t forget the “P’s of Preparedness if you are asked to evacuate:

  • People
  • Pets
  • Papers (important documents)
  • Phone numbers
  • Prescriptions (medications and glasses)
  • Pictures (and other mementos)
  • PCs (for the info stored on them)
  • Plastic (credit cards, cash)
  • Planning
This is a time to be smart, be safe, and get out of harm’s way. Buildings can be rebuilt – but nothing can bring back a loved one.

Weather conditions heighten wildfire risk

All of eastern Washington is under a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service. The service also forecasts winds of 15 to 20 mph with gusts of up to 40 mph across northeast Washington, including the Methow Valley and the Okanogan Valley. The area includes the several counties where more than 1,000 firefighters are battling 10 large wildfires that have burned more than 120,000 acres.

For information about current wildfire incidents, go to the Incident Information System website.

Also, stay connected during wildfire season through DNR’s Fire Twitter:

Sitka spruce: A tree with individuality

July 27, 2015

Western Washington’s Sitka spruce is not afraid to stand out from the rest. This tree can be seen sporting a variety of forms, from bizarrely shaped root systems to huge buttresses. Its unique shape has a lot to do with growing in a coastal environment. Being near the water, Sitka spruce faces challenges that inland trees don’t, such as a dense forest floor and extreme elements. These challenges force the tree to bend and twist in irregular ways.

How exactly does the forest floor of the coast affect the shape of Sitka spruce? The moist floor is often thick with bryophytes and other plants which makes it challenging for a tiny seed to grow. Therefore, Sitka spruce prefers to grow on elevated organic surfaces, such as logs and stumps. When these logs decay and disappear, the resulting Sitka spruce can display an oddly shaped root system and huge buttresses.

Sitka sprice root system

If a spruce started on a very large log, the resulting tree can often have a bizarrely shaped root system. Photo / DNR

Sitka spruce with broken trunk

The rotten top of a 400-plus year-old spruce snapped off in a violent winter storm, only to impale itself in the ground 65 feet from its base. Photo / DNR

Another factor that contributes to the individuality of Sitka spruce is its exposure to coastal elements. Violent winds can alter the shape of a Sitka spruce and if the tree’s top is rotten, the winds might even cause it to snap off.

Interesting facts like this and more can be found in DNR’s guides for identifying old trees and forests in Washington: Identifying Mature and Old Forests in Western Washington and Identifying Old Trees and Forests in Eastern Washington, both written by Robert Van Pelt, PhD. Both guidebooks are free to download.

Conservation of old-growth and other “structurally unique” trees is part of the State Trust Lands Habitat Conservation Plan that DNR uses to guide its management of working forests and provide habitat for endangered species on state trust lands.

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Communities taking action against wildfire hazards

March 9, 2015

More people than ever live in the wildland-urban interface, the transition zone between developed areas and wildlands–a zone where destructive wildfires can and do occur. Cisco Morris, book author and popular television and radio gardening show host, shows you how to make your community more resistant to wildfire.

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‘WebXtender’ puts Washington state land survey records, maps online

March 1, 2015

WebXtender, a research tool offered by the Public Land Survey Office, provides online access to an extensive database of land survey records and maps from every county in Washington state. Many of the 542,000 surveys and documents in the database were previously recorded only at county offices or hosted in private collections.

WebXtender users include land surveyors, engineering firms, utility companies and federal, state, county, and city agencies who pay a quarterly or yearly rate for unlimited online access to surveys and maps. The office, a state service that DNR provides, is completely supported by user fees and sales of documents and maps.

For technical support or help with set-up, take a look at the WebXtender online manual. If you cannot find what you are looking for, contact the Public Land Survey Office to see if there is a hard copy of the document or survey that has not yet been scanned into WebXtender.

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