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News / Clark County News

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to conduct 26-acre prescribed burn

Smoke may be seen between Thursday and Sunday

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 24, 2018, 6:02am

Don’t panic if you see smoke billowing out of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge later this week.

That’s supposed to happen.

The refuge plans to conduct its first-ever prescribed burn on a 26-acre section of Bachelor Island next week.

“We’re going to try to do a little habitat enhancement using fire,” said Christopher Lapp, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex project leader. “This will be our prototype to see how effective a burn is this time of year and on the vegetation we’re trying to manage.”

Bachelor Island is closed to the public year-round. It supports a diverse habitat mix on a small landscape including hardwood forest, floodplain, pasture grasslands and wetlands. But noxious weeds including reed canary grass, thistle and Himalayan blackberry are squeezing native plants out and reducing the site’s plant diversity.

“The objective is to set that plant community back and give the natives a chance to re-establish and at least compete,” Lapp said. “If this works, and we’re very optimistic it will, … this will be one of our management tools on the landscape.”

Lapp said the burn should have benefits that ripple out. Predators like coyotes and raptors will pursue burrowing prey as soon as the burn is finished. The new plants should return quickly by taking advantage of the nutrients the burned plants return to the soil. As they grow in, geese, cranes and deer will likely take advantage of the site.

The burn is expected to happen between Thursday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 30, but it could get pushed into the following week. The dates are still fuzzy because refuge employees are trying to collaborate with employees from Olympic National Park, who have their own logistical considerations to handle. Still, the weather will be the deciding factor whether the burn goes through.

When the burn does happen, the refuge will remain open. An education booth will be set up at the entrance of the River S Unit to inform the public about the fire.

Columbian staff writer