The fire risk of Oregon’s forests
Wildfires are a natural occurrence in Oregon’s forests, and periodic burns actually contribute to the overall forest health. Many plants and trees have adapted to wildfires and some species can’t survive without them. For example, thelodgepole pine needs heat produced by wildfires for its cones to open and release seeds.
Suppression is expensive
To protect human lives and structures, it became necessary to suppress many of these fires. In fact, over the past decade, Oregon has spent more than $120 million fighting forest fires.
Fire suppression, while beneficial in the short term, can have long-term negative effects. The exclusion of natural wildfire can, over decades, result in dense,overstocked forests with an overabundance of understory that would normally be removed by natural fires. These forests will inevitably experience fire, but with potentially much more devastating results.
With so much fuel on the ground and so little space between trees, these fires burn with intensity unlike natural wildfires. Fire often reaches the top of the forest canopy, and can kill entire trees. Intense fire can alter soil characteristics, increasing erosion and limiting reforestation.
Federal, state and private forestland owners have begun to develop other measures such as forest thinning and prescribed burning to minimize the risk of catastrophic fire. But these methods require diligence, money and manpower. Too often these issues limit what can be done to revitalize and protect our forests.
See an interactive map of firest currently burning in the Western United States. Today 40 percent of Oregon’s Federal forestland has been designated as high-risk for uncharacteristically intense fire.