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Turnbull Refuge schedules controlled burns


Last updated 11/5/2020 at 3:31pm

CHENEY – U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have announced they will be conducting prescribed burns on the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge from now through February, 2021.

Inland Northwest Refuge Complex fire management specialist Ken Meinhart said the controlled burns will be taking place on a total of approximately 375 acres of Refuge land. Meinhart identified four major areas, a 185-acre section in the southwest corner of the Refuge, a 150-acre area along the northern boundary east of Cheney-Plaza Road, one in the central part of the Refuge and one along the eastern boundary west of Cheney-Spangle Road.

“All of these projects will focus on burning piled material,” Meinhart said. “The last two are piles from past timber harvest operations and there are piles within a 20 – 40 acre area.”

In late 2018 the Refuge contracted with Bailey Logging of Loon Lake, Wash. to thin a number of ponderosa pine stands at various locations in order to improve wildlife habitat and reduce fuel loads should wildfires strike. Bailey Logging bid on the sale of approximately 1.7 million board feet of lumber from three units totaling approximately 325 acres of Refuge land — two on either side of Cheney-Plaza Road near the entrance and a third situated between the 5.5-mile vehicle loop and Cheney-Spangle Road.

While much of the wood was hauled away to mills in Northeast Washington, the operation also left some piles of branches and wood not suitable for sale. Past prescribed burns have focused on stands of trees and other vegetation, such as some tracts between Cheney-Plaza Road and the Columbia Trail as well as the southeast corner of the Refuge in 2019.

“Most of it (coming burns) will consist of small piles of ponderosa pine cut in years past,” Meinhart said. “Additional projects may be considered in the spring.”

According to a news release from the Refuge, prescribed fire operations take place according to the state’s Smoke Management Plan. Burning only occurs when weather conditions and smoke dispersion are favorable.

Fall burns are conducted under weather conditions that are favorable to reducing the possibility of fire leaping from a controlled environment to nearby vegetation that may still be very dry due to hot summer temperatures and lack of precipitation. Burns in the spring generally deal with vegetation that has too much moisture making it difficult to ignite, along with considerations taken into account regarding wildlife nesting seasons.

According to the news release, burns are conducted to manage and improve wildlife habitat, improve forest health and reduce damaging impacts of wildfires. Prescribed burning activities should have little or no impact on visitors’ access to the majority of the public portion of the Refuge.

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 18,217 acres of Channeled Scabland topography with over 150 marshes, wetlands and small lakes nestled around basalt outcroppings.

The Refuge is part of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Refuge Complex that also includes Little Pend Oreille and Kootenai wildlife refuges, several subunits and conservation easements in Northeast Washington and North Idaho.

According to its website, the refuges, Turnbull, Little Pend Oreille (42,594 acres) and Kootenai (2,772 acres), are managed as a complex, sharing common work priorities, budgets and some staff. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge serves as the complex headquarters.

John McCallum can be reached at


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