Fire Prevention Strategies in Forest Management

Forests are a vital part of Oregon’s ecosystem, supporting our state’s biodiversity, regulating our climate and providing us with lumber and other essential resources. A critical part of managing our forests is fire prevention. Wildfires are a major concern for Oregonians across the state, especially with devastating fires that have made headlines in recent years.

For example, the Eagle Creek Fire, started by a firework, consumed 50,000 acres of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge in 2017. Some residual fires even burned into 2018. Oregon’s 2020 wildfire season was one of the most destructive in the state’s history, burning over one million acres, forcing thousands of people to evacuate and thousands more ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. People throughout the state also dealt with days of poor air quality that reached hazardous levels in some areas.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the current state of wildfires in Oregon and discuss forest management strategies that aid in fire prevention and keeping Oregon’s forests thriving.

Oregon Wildfires

So, what causes these fires? Wildfires have always been a part of a forest’s life, starting through lightning strikes and other natural events. But recently, forests have grown increasingly dry due to climate change, drought and higher temperatures. This dryness, coupled with decades of passive management of federal forests, makes them more vulnerable to fire. Human-caused fires, such as campfires, cigarettes, fireworks and purposeful arson can turn into massive destruction.

Many Oregonians wonder if there are more fires now than there were in the past. Surprisingly, no. Since 1983, there has been a steady average of 70,000 wildfires annually across the United States. The real problem is climate change-induced drought and lack of management of federal forests that have left millions of acres of excessive fuel. That means that wildfires are more destructive and burning more acres on average now than they did in the 1980s.

Wildfire seasons have also been starting earlier than in previous decades. Historically, wildfires usually burned from July or August to early October. Recently, though, fires have been starting as early as May and lasting until November. This longer wildfire season allows for more destruction.

Luckily, with active and comprehensive forest management, wildfires can be prevented or made less catastrophic. Here are some of the ways that forest fires are prevented in Oregon’s forests.

1.Early Detection Systems

The quicker forest managers can catch a wildfire, the easier it will be to contain and manage it. Thanks to technology such as satellite monitoring, infrared cameras and aerial surveillance, authorities can detect fires faster than ever before. By responding to fires in early stages, firefighters can prevent them from growing large and massively destructive.

Forest managers also communicate with local communities, logging operators and recreationalists, who can often be the first to communicate smoke sightings and suspicious activities. Through technology and community outreach, some fires have been stopped before ever becoming a serious problem.

2. Tree Thinning

Good, sustainable forest management is science-based and uses an understanding of how forests grow, thrive and face environmental challenges. We know unmanaged forests can be dangerous. Dead, dying and diseased trees and plants serve effectively as tinder for a fire, causing it to spread quickly and grow out of control before firefighters arrive.

Actively managed forests are a key piece in stopping severe wildfires. Mechanized harvest and thinning reduce the fuel available for wildfire and keep forests healthy by removing trees that are too dense and at risk of insects and disease.

3. Controlled Burning

Sometimes, fire management involves setting controlled fires. It may sound counterintuitive to purposely set fires, but it helps maintain the health of the forest.

Controlled burns are scheduled during times when fires won’t pose a threat to fire managers. Forest managers will draw up a plan, detailing where and how the fire will burn, as well as what the goal of the fire is. Factors such as weather conditions are taken into consideration, as are plans for how to extinguish the fire if needed.

Controlled burns help rid a forest of excessive underbrush, dead tree limbs, fallen leaves and other plant debris that would act as kindling in an uncontrolled fire. Controlled burning can also be used to reduce invasive plant and insect species.

Fire can actually be beneficial for a forest. Ash returns essential nutrients to the soil, helping trees grow healthier. Controlled fires also thin out vegetation, allowing more sunlight and open space for new plants to grow.

4. Maintaining Roads

Oregon has superb firefighting resources, but the ability to transport them is paramount to their effectiveness. Well-maintained roads can make the difference between a firefighting crew quickly containing a blaze versus not being able to reach it on time. Unfortunately, some forests have limited road access or roads that are not well-maintained. This makes for dangerous conditions for firefighters, and crews may not enter certain areas due to the risk involved.

By maintaining and managing access roads, wildfires can be stopped much more efficiently.

5. Public Education and Awareness

Statistics show that 89 percent of wildfires are caused by humans. Many people who visit forests don’t understand how easily wildfires start or what causes them. Unattended or poorly managed campfires, discarded cigarettes and fireworks can all unintentionally cause huge wildfires, especially during times of drought and hot weather.

One of the most effective ways to prevent wildfires is through education campaigns informing the public about the dangers and consequences of their actions. These campaigns promote responsible behavior in forested areas, which can significantly reduce human-caused wildfires.

Public awareness campaigns reach out to local communities, schools, recreation groups and visitors to national and state parks. They can foster a shared sense of responsibility for forest protection and for the trees.

Fire prevention is one of the most important jobs that forest management teams have. By actively managing and caring for forests and involving and educating the general public, we can work together to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Wildfires and smoke affect all Oregonians, no matter if you’re at home or out exploring the state. Keep yourself informed with our wildfire and smoke resources. You can also sign up to receive Oregon Forests Forever alerts for news about wildfires and the forests you love.

We’re focused on actively and sustainably managing our forests in Oregon.

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