PUBLIC LANDS -- The Colville National Forest has begun reforestation efforts following the 2015 wildfires, the worst recorded in Washington.
Crews are packing thousands of seedlings into burned areas as the snow recedes and specialized crews are applying straw and wood mulch from a helicopter to stabilize soils, said Franklin Pemberton, Forest Service spokesman.
Tree planting must be done in the narrow window between snowmelt and summer heat that makes the soil too dry.
"In burned areas where there is very little vegetation competition an ideal opportunity arises to reintroduce a species that was wiped out by blister rust nearly one hundred years ago -- the western white pine," he said.
Other than western white pine, about 35,000 ponderosa pine and 25,000 western larch seedlings will be planted over roughly 500 acres of fire damaged national forest, he said.
The effort will continue in 2017 when the Colville plans on planting roughly 1,000 acres. In 2018, the goal is 2,000 acres.
"Each tree is planted by hand," Pemberton said. "As the crews scale the ashy slopes each member carries a hoedad, a specialized heavy-duty replanting tool and roughly 200 tree seedlings at a time.
A typical crew plants an average of 20 acres a day -- more than 6,000 trees."
Other crews will be working to stabilize roads and trails, removing roadside hazard trees and assessing and cleaning out culverts to prevent road failures.
Access restrictions may apply to burned areas as work continues. check with local ranger districts for current conditions.