Forest in the city limits of Spokane were not always thick with trees. Prior to 19th century settlement, the wilderness had its own way of handling its ecosystem. Wildfires were an integral part of the survival of forest, clearing away low growing vegetation. Now it’s a hazard with the integration of a growing community living in and around a pine bounty.
Without regular wildfires to keep a forest healthy and thin, the danger of losing the land all together to raging flames increases. To protect the lavish land that invites recreators, community help is necessary to maintain what fires would have done naturally.
Down the steep hillside along Spokane’s High Drive, Guy Gifford with the Washington Department of Natural Resources marches down the trail head. With his clinometer, he studies the slopes to perform an assessment on the area. His biggest curiosity, can he bring a chipping machine along the trails and thin about 177 acres of forest?
“Can I get equipment in here? If I could fly a piece in here ... I’ve been told we could drive some in,” Gifford contemplates to himself.
The recreational trails used by bicyclists, hikers and runners on the bluff start on a 55-60% slope. Gifford explains that most mechanical equipment can’t operate on it to even chip debris cleared during forest pruning. Due to past wildfires, the soil is prepared like a garden; it's bare, burnt dirt that is sandy and rocky underfoot. The growing Ponderosa pines seed like crazy in the setting, creating a dense hillside.
Gifford described the pines as sun lovers that hate the shade. It's a fire-dependent tree that needs the hot flames to survive. They reproduce better in grand open land. That’s why the taller the tree, the more open the area.