Fire’s long-lasting legacy: Fewer forests recovering from wildfires

fire long lasting legacyNorthwest Oregon officially enters fire season this week, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. That includes Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook and western Washington counties.

And with firefighters already battling blazes in Central Oregon, it feels like it’s going to be a long hot summer.

A new study from the University of Colorado brings more challenging news. Researchers have found that fewer forests are recovering after suffering from wildfires. Forest and Rangeland assistant professor Camilla Stevens-Rumann determined that the climate in an area that had a fire after the year 2000 ended up warmer and dryer than before the fire, making it difficult for new trees to grow.

“Post-fire conditions are much hotter and dryer after 2000 — this has led to pretty large regeneration failures,” Stevens-Rumann said in an article about the study. “Before 2000, about 15 percent of our sites had no tree regeneration on it at all, (but) after 2000, that jumped up to 33 percent, so about a third of the landscapes that we studied, we are not seeing any trees coming back.”

In the same article, United States Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Aaron Voos reflected on the ability for a forest to regenerate. “A really fast-moving fire that comes through consumes a whole bunch of dead fuel and then moves on really quickly,” he said. “That will recover fairly well because it doesn’t heat the soil in the same way that a slow-moving, very hot fire does, which will then bake the soils and make it harder for it to recover.”

Unfortunately for Oregon, the length of our fire season since 1970 has grown by 78 days, and the Oregon State University predicts that the Pacific Northwest will continue to get warmer.