Most people supported the Natural Conservancy’s purchase of 46,000 acres of former Plum Creek Timber Company land in 2014, but there were questions on how the land would be managed.

As it turns out the Nature Conservancy is attempting to manage the land in the manner it stated it would when making the purchase — for forest health and fire safety.

That is good news not just for people who live near the forest but for all residents of Kittitas County.

This summer the Nature Conservancy hired Thayer Excavating of Ellensburg to selectively log about 310 acres of forest near the Cle Elum Ridge. A Forestry Day was held Saturday to give the public a chance to check out what’s being done.

The purpose of the harvest is to thin the forest to improve health and fire safety. This is a small slice of the total land holdings, but the Cle Elum Ridge is a critical location in terms of fire safety for the Upper County communities.

As positive as this project is for the community there is one disconcerting note — timber market conditions limit income harvests can generate.

The best-case scenario is the Nature Conservancy can generate revenue off the land so that harvest and health projects can be self-sustaining.

There is a lot to be done on the 46,000 acres if the conservancy is to accomplish its goal of returning the forest land to its historic conditions.

One of the challenges is historically fire played a role in managing the forests. Contemporary forest fires feeding off over understory growth and disease-weakened trees burn at a higher intensity, growing to larger proportions.

Modern forestry techniques involve controlled burns. Obviously, given our weather and dry conditions, controlled burns take place in late fall and the winter. The one catch with winter controlled burns in Kittitas County is often the county has an air inversion in the winter, trapping smoke particles and lowering air quality to unhealthy levels.

So it’s not as easy to schedule a winter slate of controlled burns, but it is a method that needs to be part of the package of improving forest health.

There is a lot of good news coming out of the Nature Conservancy’s ownership of the land, but challenges remain.

The organization’s intent to involve the public in the process means we can all play of part in improving forest health and fire safety.

Have a thumb?

If you have an idea for a thumb contact Michael Gallagher at 925-1414 or via email at mgallagher@kvnews.com or letters@kvnews.com and find the thumbs form under the opinion category. Include your name and phone number.

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