Two sections of the Methow Wildlife Area in Okanogan County are part of a forest restoration project after approval by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

WDFW Commissioners have approved the Rendezvous - Golden Doe Forest Restoration Project to thin trees on about 464 acres.

The department will leave between 20 and 30 of the best available trees per acre, including pine and fir trees.

The project is designed to make the forest healthier and improve the habitat for numerous species including mule deer.

It's also expected to reduce wildfire risks and increase the proportion of larger trees in the areas.

Richard Tveten with WDFW says the project will end up saving more trees when a forest fire threatens populated areas.

"If there's a big fire that's threatening one of the towns like Winthrop, when the firefighters come in, they just clear-cut big swaths to try to stop the fire and protect peoples' homes," said Tveten. "So, if we go in and thin it before the fire, they won't have to do that.”

WDFW hopes to follow-up the project with a prescribed burn.

The department will try to offset the cost of the project by selling the thinned-out trees for commercial purposes

The WDFW Forester believes that the project will break even assuming log and pulp prices do not fall, and fuel prices don’t get too high.

If the project doesn’t break even, it can be subsidized with forest health funds.

Tveten says the forest areas will be safe from the threat of wildfires once the thinning is done.

"Once we've got it thinned out...a fire really can't hurt that forest," Tveten said. "It won't do anything other than singe the bark in the trees. And it's a lot easier to protect the nearby communities from wildfires."

Tveten also said the thinned-out forest would be much more attractive to wildlife.

Large parts of the Methow Wildlife Area have burned in past several years, and the area has become highly vulnerable to wildfires.

The Carlton Complex Fire in 2014 burned more than 256,000 acres.

WDFW commissioners also approved the Middle Hutchins Forest Restoration Project in the southern portion of Kittitas County.

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