Birds back at charred Bateman Island. Still no people allowed

Grass is growing again and new leaves are showing on Russian olive trees on Bateman Island in Richland six weeks after a fire burned 70 acres, mostly in the center of the island.

The public still is not allowed onto the island, but the island is expected to recover more quickly than it did after two fires swept across the island in 2001. Then the public waited two years for new vegetation to be planted and the island to reopen.

This time “nature is coming back on its own,” said Joe Schiessl, Richland city parks and public facilities director.

The fire was not so hot and fast as to burn everything in its path and cook plant seeds still in the soil.

The city, which leases the island from the Army Corps of Engineers, has told the Corps it will evaluate plant growth through the fall to see if the island could be reopened in the winter.

Both agencies see the 160-acre natural area as a resource belonging to the people and want to allow people back on the island as soon as possible without damaging the island and its resources, Schiessl said.

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