Camas city officials learned this week that the city is still feeling the impacts of the Nakia Creek wildfire, which burned more than 1,900 acres near Larch Mountain northeast of Camas-Washougal in October 2022, and forced “go now” evacuations for thousands of Camas-Washougal area residents.
The city’s utilities manager, Rob Charles, told Camas City Council members during a Tuesday, Jan. 3, Council workshop the wildfire had burned through 800 acres of the city’s watershed on the south side of Larch Mountain.
“The city has a forest management plan to harvest and replant approximately 1,700 acres of land in the Jones and Boulder (creeks) watershed over a 40-year period,” Charles told the Council. “Due to the Nakia Creek Fire, approximately 568 of the affected 800 acres of burn-area trees should be harvested to ensure they don’t die, which would result in having no value to sawmills and becoming a larger liability.”
Trees impacted by wildfires typically must be harvested within a year of the fire to ensure the trees are not further damaged by insects or a lack of sustenance — and to reduce future wildfire risks — Charles told city officials Tuesday.
If the city did not harvest the fire-damaged trees in time to sell to sawmills, Charles said, the trees will eventually die and be the city’s liability.
“If they are not harvested, the trees will become a nuisance and fire hazard in the watershed as well as (limit) the success of reforestation efforts,” Charles noted in his staff report to the Council, adding that the harvesting work “must be completed by October 2023, which is an extremely tight schedule.”
City officials voted unanimously during the Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3, to approve a consent agenda that included a $423,000 contract with AKS Engineering and Forestry to harvest the 568 acres of fire-impacted trees.
The city expects the harvested trees will be worth about 10% less due to the fire, but should still bring the city an estimated $4.1 million in revenues — $1.1 million from the Boulder West salvage, $1.4 million from the Boulder East salvage and $1.6 million from the Jones salvage.
The city also will need to spend roughly $300,000 to replant the watershed areas, Charles said Tuesday.
The revenues from the harvested timber sales would go into the city’s water fund and could only be used for water-related purposes.
“(The timber revenues) would all go back to the water fund,” Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall told the Council Tuesday. “We are not able to use this for the general fund, for parks, streets or anything else (funded through the city’s general fund).”
Wall told The Post-Record in October 2022, that the Nakia Creek wildfire “blew straight through” the city’s Boulder Creek and Jones Creek watershed near Larch Mountain, but caused “very, very minimal” impacts to the city’s drinking water system since Camas had not yet switched its water source from its well fields to the Larch Mountain-area surface water the city normally uses to provide drinking water to its residents during the winter months.
“All of our water is coming from the city’s well field and there’s more than adequate supply (there) to supply the city through the winter and all year,” Wall said in October.
The fire may not have impacted Camas’ drinking water supply, but it did put a kink in the city’s 40-year timberland harvesting schedule.
Wall said the city has a 40-year plan that assumes Camas will harvest trees from its Boulder-Jones creeks watershed every two years, but that the fire-damaged harvest will remove four to five times the number of trees the city normally harvests in a two-year period.
“We will have to go back and figure out how doing four to five harvests at once impacts our harvest plan,” Wall told the Council.
Some Council members on Tuesday asked if the revenues from the unexpected timber harvest might be able to fund a city forester.
“If we decided we needed a forester for the water system,” the money could pay for that position, Wall said, but the forester would not be able to work for other city departments.
If city leaders decided to hire a full-time forester and assign that person duties related to the water system, Wall added, the timber revenues could pay for the forester’s water-related hours.
“It’s certainly something we’ve discussed in the past, and the potential is there,” Wall said of the hiring of a staff forester. “It could be a priority at some point, but we would need to put some boundaries around it … and have a discussion about what we’re really trying to accomplish … but the water system could help fund a portion of that staff (position).”