What's happening in the forest sector?

Are there many big trees in Oregon?
12.06.2013

Because I’m a forester, people often ask me: “Are there very many big trees in Oregon, and are they protected?” That’s a reasonable question, and it reflects genuine public concern about harvesting trees for wood products. And I had a gut feeling about the answer, but frankly, I didn’t know it.

Fortunately, this is just the sort of question the LEMMA project was set up to answer. LEMMA is the Landscape Ecology, Modeling, Mapping and Analysis project, which is a collaborative effort of the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the US Forest Service, the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The LEMMA project uses data from permanent inventory plots and satellite imagery to create Gradient Nearest Neighbor (GNN) maps and tables. This data can be analyzed to determine area and percent of Oregon forestland by tree size classes, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Area and Percent of Oregon Forestland by Average Tree Size Class

ClassSize ClassAverage Tree SizeAcreagePercent

1Shrub/seeding<1" dbh964,1963.1%

2Sapling/pole1-10" dbh10,418,67833.6%

3Small tree10-15" dbh9,543,41430.7%

4Medium tree15-20" dbh5,057,48016.3%

5Large tree20-30" dbh3,809,68712.3%

6Giant tree>30" dbh1,244,2954.0%

 TOTAL 31,037,750100.0%

dbh=diameter at breast height    

 

If we consider “big” trees to be those of 20”+ dbh, then the data in Table 1 shows that we have a bit over 5 million acres of big trees, and this totals about 16 percent of Oregon’s forestland.

In terms of protection for the big trees, people generally think of trees being protected if they’re in some sort of a reserve, such as a National Park, Wilderness Area or Late Successional Reserve. Table 2 shows the types and extent of reserved forest areas in Oregon. It also shows acres of large trees included in those reserve areas. Each of these types of Reserved Forest Areas is a bit different. However, they all have in common that little or no timber harvest is allowed within their boundaries. Big trees in Reserved Forest Areas are not likely to be harvested.

 

Table 2: Oregon Forested Area - Reserved Forest Areas and Large Trees

Reserve ClassAcres in 
Large TreesPercent of 
Large TreesAcres in 
Medium TreesForested AcresPercent of Forest

Adaptive Management Areas167,3923.3%78,615524,9281.7%

Administratively Withdrawn140,8132.8%96,286525,3441.7%

National Parks, Monuments & Wildlife Refuges56,0191.1%41,527303,3101.0%

Late Successional Reserves1,393,58427.6%549,0963,525,94311.4%

Wilderness Areas519,53710.3%435,5991,998,5406.4%

Key Watersheds outside other Reserves368,9597.3%216,1821,502,2914.8%

Total Reserved Areas2,646,30352.4%1,417,3048,380,35727.0%

      

Total Non-Reserved Areas2,407,67947.6%3,640,17622,657,39373.0%

Total Area5,053,982100.0%5,057,48031,037,750100.0%

 

Table 2 shows that Reserved Forest Areas total over 8.3 million acres, or about 27 percent of Oregon forestland. These reserves contain about 2.6 million acres, or about 52 percent of the large-tree acres. So, to answer our question, there are over 5 million acres of big trees in Oregon, and about 2.6 million acres of these are protected.

The graphic at the top of the blog shows the 31 million acres of forestland in Oregon as arrayed along a ruler. The green area on the left represents the 22.6 million acres of non-reserved forest, while the blue area to the right represents the 8.4 million acres of Reserve Forest Areas. The 5 million acres of large trees is shown as a purple band that crosses the blue-green boundary, with 2.4 million acres of non-reserved large trees shown in green with purple overlay and 2.6 million acres of reserved large trees shown in blue with purple overlay.

After examining LEMMA data on tree size classes and data on Reserved Forest Areas, I conclude that there are lots of big trees left in Oregon; about one half are protected in reserved forest areas. Over time, there will be more big trees, and most will be protected in reserved forest areas. For a more complete discussion of big trees and reserved areas, including maps, read the Featured Story on the OFRI website.

For the Forest,
Mike Cloughesy, 
Director of Forestry

Natural Christmas Trees
11.27.2013

My wife and I are planning for the holidays, and as I write this column we’re still working on leftovers from Thanksgiving – we didn’t go hungry, I assure you.

But it won’t be long before we head out for a Christmas tree and garland materials to decorate our home. Because we enjoy the scent of the tree, we always get a natural tree and festoon it with multiple strings of LED lights and lots of colorful glass bulbs and icicles. The glass icicles are heirlooms from my wife’s family.

Earlier today, I saw an article titled “Real Versus Artificial Christmas Trees - An Environmental Perspective” from Dovetail Partners in Minneapolis, whose scientists work to provide useful public information about environmental decisions and tradeoffs. “Well,” I thought after reading, “leave it to a scientist to take the magic out of a Christmas tree.”

No matter, because they recommend natural trees – and if you’re wired for science, I recommend you read it.

If you’re shopping for a natural tree this year, consider the following facts and figures about Oregon Christmas trees:

  • This year Oregon will harvest about 6.4 million Christmas trees, nearly twice as many as our nearest competitor, North Carolina.
  • About 63,000 acres are planted and managed specifically for Christmas trees, with Douglas-fir being the favored variety at 47 percent; noble fir, 45 percent; grand fir, 5 percent; all the rest account for 3 percent.
  • Christmas trees are considered an agricultural crop in Oregon, and their acreage does not count as forestland. When tallied up, this year’s crop is expected to be worth about $110 million.
  • 45 percent of the crop will go to California; another 10 percent will go to other Western states, with the Atlantic and Gulf states buying another 13 percent. Mexico will buy 16 percent, and the rest of them are already in containers at sea headed for foreign markets.

Christmas trees, like wine grapes, are often planted on soils that would not be suitable for other crops. Such as with any tree, they absorb atmospheric carbon and emit oxygen through photosynthesis. It’s a crop that helps anchor soils, preventing erosion. After they’re used, trees are often turned into recycled mulch. Buying and selling Christmas trees is an activity that profits many service organizations. Here in Oregon, Christmas trees and garlands are often purchased directly from growers, making them a fresh, attractive locally sourced product.

If you’re interested in more information about Christmas trees, go to the website for the Northwest Christmas Tree Association.

Dave Kvamme
Director of Communications

Are there many big trees in Oregon?
11.21.2013

Mike Cloughesy

 

Mike Cloughesy

By Mike Cloughesy 

Because I’m a forester, people often ask me: “Are there very many big trees in Oregon, and are they protected?” That’s a reasonable question, and it reflects genuine public concern about harvesting trees for wood products. And I had a gut feeling about the answer, but frankly, I didn’t know it.

Fortunately, this is just the sort of question the LEMMA team was set up to answer. LEMMA is the Landscape Ecology, Modeling, Mapping and Analysis team, which is a collaborative effort of the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the US Forest Service and the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

The LEMMA team uses data from regional inventory plots, satellite imagery and other GIS layers to create Gradient Nearest Neighbor (GNN) maps. One of the map layers that was created and included in the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Forestry Map Atlas is Oregon Forestland Tree Size Classes.

For more information on this LEMMA project, visit the website.

 

Table 1: Area and Percent of Oregon Forestland by Average Tree Size Class

ClassSize ClassAverage Tree SizeAcreagePercent

1Shrub/seeding<1" dbh964,1963.1%

2Sapling/pole1-10" dbh10,418,67833.6%

3Small tree10-15" dbh9,543,41430.7%

4Medium tree15-20" dbh5,057,48016.3%

5Large tree20-30" dbh3,809,68712.3%

6Giant tree>30" dbh1,244,2954.0%

 TOTAL 31,037,750100.0%

dbh=diameter at breast height    

 

Table 1 and Figure 1 show the area and percent of Oregon forestland by tree size class in 2000. The tree size class acreages indicate the areas with trees whose average diameter is in a certain size class. Thus, Class 5 represents areas where the average dbh (diameter at breast height) of trees is between 20 and 30 inches.

 

Figure 1: Percent of Oregon Forestland by Average Tree Size Class

In Figure 1, the combined Classes 1 and 2, the combined Classes 4, 5 and 6, and Class 3 each represent about one-third of the forestland in Oregon. As trees grow over time, they will move into the next size class. As areas are harvested or burned in wildfires, they start over at Class 1. I believe that having one-third of our forest acres in shrubs, seedlings, saplings and poles (Classes 1 and 2), one-third in small trees (Class 3), and one-third in medium, large and giant trees (Classes 4-6) provides a sustainable cycle so we will have a continual supply of “big trees.”

Large trees

If we consider “big” trees to be those stands with average diameter of 20-inches-plus, the data in Table 1 shows that we have slightly more than 5 million acres of forest with an average diameter that would classify it as big trees, which total about 16 percent of Oregon’s forestland.

There are many “big trees” out there not being counted in this analysis. What we have presented is acres where the average tree size is above a certain minimum, rather than any counts of big trees per se. Areas with a few large trees per acre and hundreds of much smaller trees will not be counted as “big trees” in this analysis.

Map 1 shows areas of trees with average diameter of 20 inches and larger in Oregon. The map shows that big trees are found throughout the forested areas of the state, but are most common and concentrated in the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range.

map of big trees in oregon

Map 1: Large Trees – Average dbh of 20”+

Because of the human eye’s resolution limitations and the scale of Map 1, the red 30m pixels of the “big trees” bleed into each other, creating the illusion of large homogeneous areas of big trees – where in reality it is a patchwork of big trees. Map 2, a zoom of the large trees in the McKenzie River area near Belknap Springs, shows an area of Lane County zoomed in to show that in many areas, the sea of red is really a patchwork of many red areas of big trees, mixed with other size classes.

Closeup of big trees in McKenzie watershed

Map 2: Zoom of Large Trees in the McKenzie River Area (about 160 square miles)

Reserved forest areas

In terms of protection for the big trees, people generally think of trees being protected if they are in some sort of a reserve, such as a National Park, Wilderness Area or Late Successional Reserve, which is an area administratively withdrawn for wildlife habitat purposes.

Map 3 shows the location of Reserved Forest Areas in Oregon. These reserve areas are predominantly found on federal land. Similar to the big trees, they are most common and concentrated in the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range. Each of these types of Reserved Forest Areas is a bit different. However, they all have in common that little or no timber harvest is allowed within their boundaries. Big trees in Reserved Forest Areas are unlikely to be harvested, but they are not immune to threats such as wildfire, insects and diseases, or wind.

Reserved forest areas

Map 3: Reserved Forest Areas


Large trees and reserved forest areas

Map 4 shows the relationship of big trees and Reserved Forest Areas. There is quite a bit of overlap. Big trees growing in Reserved Forest Areas are shown in green. There are also millions of acres of big trees growing on non-Reserved Forest Areas, shown in blue.

Large trees in Oregon reserved forest area

Map 4: Large Trees and Reserved Forest Area


Table 2 shows that Reserved Forest Areas total more than 8.3 million acres, or about 27 percent of Oregon forestland. These reserves contain about 2.6 million acres, or about 52 percent, of the large-tree acres.

So the answer to our question, “Are there many big trees in Oregon, and are they protected?” is that there are more than 5 million acres of big trees in Oregon, and about 2.6 million acres of these are growing on permanently protected forestland.

Table 2: Oregon Forested Area - Reserved Forest Areas and Large Trees

Reserve ClassAcres in 
Large TreesPercent of 
Large TreesAcres in 
Medium TreesForested AcresPercent of Forest

Adaptive Management Areas167,3923.3%78,615524,9281.7%

Administratively Withdrawn140,8132.8%96,286525,3441.7%

National Parks, Monuments & Wildlife Refuges56,0191.1%41,527303,3101.0%

Late Successional Reserves1,393,58427.6%549,0963,525,94311.4%

Wilderness Areas519,53710.3%435,5991,998,5406.4%

Key Watersheds outside other Reserves368,9597.3%216,1821,502,2914.8%

Total Reserved Areas2,646,30352.4%1,417,3048,380,35727.0%

      

Total Non-Reserved Areas2,407,67947.6%3,640,17622,657,39373.0%

Total Area5,053,982100.0%5,057,48031,037,750100.0%

 

Figure 2a: Large Trees in Reserved and Non-reserved Forest Areas 

Large trees in Oregon pie chart

The acreage of large trees in reserved and non-reserved forest areas can be looked at graphically in a couple different ways. Figure 2a shows a tree “cookie” representing all 31 million acres of forestland in Oregon. The blue wedge represents the 8.4 million acres of Reserved Forest Areas. The brown wedge represents the 22.6 million acres of non-reserved forestland. Overlain on the tree cookie is the yellow wedge representing the more than 5 million acres of large trees in Oregon. The green portion of this wedge, where yellow overlays blue, represents the 2.6 million acres of large trees in Reserved Forest Areas. The plain yellow portion of the wedge represents the 2.4 million acres of large trees on non-reserved forestland.

Figure 2b: Large Trees in Reserved and Non-reserved Forest Areas

Linear look at Oregon's big treesFigure 2b shows the 31 million acres of forestland in Oregon as arrayed along a ruler. The green area on the left represents the 22.6 million acres of non-reserved forest, while the blue area to the right represents the 8.4 million acres of Reserved Forest Areas. The 5 million acres of large trees is shown as a purple band that crosses the blue-green boundary, with 2.4 million acres of non-reserved large trees shown in green with purple overlay and 2.6 million acres of reserved large trees shown in blue with purple overlay.

Table 2 also shows that there are nearly 1.5 million acres of medium trees in our reserves. These stands of trees with average diameters of 15 to 20 inches are growing and will become big trees in a few decades or less. At a radial growth rate of six rings per inch, which is common in western Oregon, a 10-inch-diameter tree would become a 20-inch-diameter tree in 30 years.

Conclusion

We began this article asking: “Are there many big trees in Oregon, and are they protected?”

After examining LEMMA data and maps on tree size classes and data on Reserved Forest Areas, we can make the following three observations:

  • There are lots of big trees greater than 20 inches in diameter in Oregon.
  • About half of these big trees are protected in Reserved Forest Areas. 
  • Over time there may potentially be many more big trees as medium trees in Reserved Forest Areas become large trees.

Further, fleshing out three observations by adding information suggests that:

  • There are more than 5 million acres of large trees more than 20 inches in diameter in Oregon’s forestlands.
  • More than one half, about 2.6 million acres, is in Reserved Forest Areas. These trees are unlikely to be harvested. However, a large percentage of this area is disturbed by wildfire annually. Recent studies by LEMMA of change in older forest suggest a slight net loss of older forest across the area of the Northwest Forest Plan, due to wildfire. 
  • A bit less than half, about 2.4 million acres, is in non-reserved areas. These trees are subject to harvest, but with the fairly stable harvest levels we have observed in the past 25 years on private land where most of these non-reserved large trees are, harvest of large trees will be offset by natural growth of medium trees into the large-tree class.
  • There are about 1.4 million acres of medium-size trees in Reserved Forest Areas, and many of these are destined to grow into large trees in the next few decades.
  • Over time, Oregon has the potential to increase from about 5 million acres of large trees to nearly 6.5 million acres of large trees.

Caveats

The LEMMA data that formed the basis of this analysis were very useful. However, like any data set, there are caveats that must be understood:

  • The data presented in this paper are based on models and maps that may contain many sources of error. However, they are the best estimates we have.
  • A different definition of “big trees” would give us a different answer. For example, if we identified only trees of greater than 30 inches in diameter as “big trees,” we would have 1.2 million acres, or about 4 percent of Oregon’s forest as “big trees.”
  • The tree size variable we used in our analysis is based on average tree diameters. There are many “big trees” out there not being counted in this analysis. What we have presented is acres where the average tree size is above a certain minimum, rather than any counts of big trees per se. 
  • Finally, “big trees” are not the same as “old growth.” Old growth forests have large trees, but also include snags and down logs, a variety of tree sizes, and patchiness in tree sizes. Some of our areas of large trees would be considered old growth, but not all. The data don’t give us that information. However, identifying areas of big trees is an important step in looking at our forest diversity.

Prepared by: Mike Cloughesy, Director of Forestry, Oregon Forest Resources Institute

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Notes:

Thanks to Andy Herstrom of the Oregon Department of Forestry, Forest Resources Planning shop, for developing Maps 1-4 and for providing other data for this article. 

Thanks to Jordan Benner of OFRI for developing the graphical images that became Figures 2a and 2b.

Thanks to Janet Ohmann, Andy Herstrom, Jordan Benner and Paul Barnum for reviewing drafts and helping improve this article.

The Barry Point Fire: Taking stock of the lessons learned
11.05.2013

All photos courtesy of the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

The lightning storm rolled over the Fremont-Winema National Forest on Aug. 5, 2012. No rain, just lightning. It had already been a hot, dry summer. Fire managers got ready to be busy.

The following day, crews responded to several fires that were reined in routinely. About 4:30 p.m., the fire lookout on Dog Mountain spotted fire again and radioed the dispatch center. Over the next 10 minutes, he called in several updates: The fire was torching and spotting, doubling in size.

“He had an urgency in his voice,” recalls Paul Harlan, vice president of resources at Collins Pine, who heard the call over a radio at his office at the sawmill, about 20 miles away in Lakeview.

As it turns out, this was a fire that would make history, burning 93,000 acres of pine, juniper and rangeland over three weeks..

Map of the Barry Point Fire over 14 days

No lives were lost, but now, a year after the Barry Point Fire, Collins Pine and other timberland owners are scrambling to recoup what value they can from burned and deteriorating pine. Much of it would not otherwise have been harvested for years.

And the US Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry continue to study this fire – and others that involve multiple agencies – to learn how to further refine firefighting communication and collaboration. If there is an upside, it’s that some of the lessons were put to use during the 2013 fire season, one of the most challenging in Oregon in decades.

"That fire took off"

Within 30 minutes of being spotted, the lookout estimated the fire at seven acres, with wind-carried embers igniting new fires 300 yards ahead of the main fire.

Firefighters and equipment had been dispatched immediately and were beginning to arrive, but this was a tough one.

“That fire took off and ran almost immediately after being detected,” says Greg Pittman, ODF’s district forester in Lakeview. “They simply couldn’t get around in front of it.”

The fire spread to the east and northeast for nearly a week – driven by southwest wind, which is typical here. And fire managers had set up to stop a continued spread in that direction. But by Aug. 12, the winds started blowing from the north, which is not typical. The fire turned south, burning toward California.

“You get that sick feeling in your stomach,” Harlan says, recalling the moment it occurred to him that the fire could now burn all the way into California, where Collins owns tens of thousands of acres of FSC-certified ponderosa pine timberland. “You think, ‘It wouldn’t really do that, would it?’ Well, it did.”

The fire made a huge run overnight, burning about 15,000 acres and crossing the state line. Within the next few days it consumed more than 20,000 acres of Collins timberland.

.

The Barry Point fire spread a considerable distance at night

Finally, the weather cooled, a little rain fell and firefighters were able to contain the fire, 21 days after it began.

As Harlan and Pittman are describing the events, they’re standing on a Forest Service road surrounded by the charred trunks of what used to be ponderosa pines. It’s a clear, cold October morning. A year earlier, this is all still smoking.

A group that includes key people in Oregon’s forestry community has just gotten off a tour bus: timber executives, Oregon State University forestry professors, conservationists, board members and staff of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, and Oregon State Forester Doug Decker.

Many are a day’s drive from home – Portland, Corvallis or Salem. Lakeview is a town of roughly 2,300 people, about 10 miles north of the California border, not far from where California and Nevada meet. It’s a long way from anywhere.

OFRI has brought the group here to listen to the story of the Barry Point Fire, and to conduct what amounts to a postmortem.

“We don’t want to make a habit of hosting tours of disasters,” Harlan tells the group later that day. He draws some laughs with that, although there’s not much to laugh about considering what the fire did to Collins. 

Nature “out of whack”

How did this happen? There’d been drought, the winds were unusual, and the humidity was low even at night, which partly contributed to the fire making big gains even while it was dark. Typically wildfires calm down at night.

“It’s a little bit unusual to have an active fire pretty much 24/7,” Pittman says.

But on top of all that, the forest was overstocked with fuel. It’s a story that goes back 150 years, as OSU professor Stephen Fitzgerald explains.

Fitzgerald says that fire, burning at low intensity along the ground, was historically common in the ponderosa pine forests of eastern Oregon. The fires cleared out brush and small trees while the larger ponderosas remained, having adapted to survive this type of fire.

Showing a graph of fire activity over the past few hundred years, he points to about 1880 and says, “All of a sudden, the fires stop.”

Why? The environment was changed by cattle grazing, logging and the end of Native American burning, as tribes were moved to reservations. Then into the 20th century, humans started quickly putting out wildfires.

Of course, the forest kept growing. And over the past 20 years, with the severe drop-off of active management in national forests, few trees have been removed – by fire, logging or otherwise.

“When you remove fire,” Fitzgerald tells the group, “you see this irruption of trees in the understory … That has consequences that we are dealing with today.”

With more fuel, fires burn hotter and bigger, and instead of creeping along the ground, flames climb into the crowns of the trees. Unlike ground fire, crown fire kills the pines.

Foresters use terms like “catastrophic fire” and “stand replacement” to describe how these fires are different, meaning entire stands of trees are killed and have to regenerate from scratch.

“We’ve fundamentally changed how fire operates,” Fitzgerald says. “There’s something wrong when you have stand-replacement fires in ponderosa pine across tens of thousands of acres, when historically it did a surface burn or flared up here and there.”

Fitzgerald says he has heard people say, “‘Nature will take care of it if you let it alone.’ Well I can tell you that it’s so far out of whack that nature can’t rectify this on its own.”

“It’s going to take human input to actually re-engineer that back to some kind of natural state,” he says. Either that, or there will be more Barry Point Fires.

stand replacement fire leaves no live trees to reseed

Change of plans: "A big curve"

The “re-engineering” Fitzgerald talks about is what the Forest Service and others call “restoration.” This usually involves the Forest Service hiring a contractor to thin the forest. Some of the trees removed will be sawlogs, but many will be too small to make lumber from.

Often these projects are designed and promoted by “collaboratives,” groups that usually include USFS foresters, timber executives, local leaders and environmentalists sitting down to figure out how and where to do a project. The idea is to find common ground instead of arguing and filing lawsuits.

Jim Walls runs the collaborative here, the Lakeview Stewardship Group. It had been moving projects through the long, complicated pipeline for years, doing environmental analyses and getting permits. It had been on track to start work this past summer. But the fire beat them to it by a year, burning in a few days an area that the group expected would provide two or three years of restoration work.

“The fire threw a big curve into that one, and took a whole bunch of years right out from under us,” Walls says.

Moreover, the fire completely missed some earlier restoration projects that had been done in the Fremont-Winema, places where thinned-out fuel might have slowed the fire. The location of the Barry Point Fire was a stroke of wrong-place, wrong-time bad luck.

Yet the collaborative is looking ahead, and has begun planning a new restoration project elsewhere on the forest..

Salvaging "a very perishable product"

As soon as a ponderosa pine is killed by fire, two things start to happen. If you’re in the business of selling lumber, neither is helpful.

First, the tree is invaded by a fungus that begins to rot the wood. Even if the wood itself is sound when it’s harvested, the fungus leaves a blue stain.

Second, the beetles show up and begin boring holes in the trees, an even worse defect.

With pine – used to make moldings, doors and windows, and valued for its “pretty factor” – blue stain and bug holes destroy at least half the wood’s value, says Dee Brown, manager of the Collins mill in Lakeview.

Collins began salvaging burned trees from its own land last October. Some of the logs were still smoking as they were loaded on trucks. As they complete salvage work this fall, they have brought to the mill in one year about the same amount of timber they would normally process in two.

“Time is everything when it comes to salvage,” Brown says. “This is a very perishable product.”

Decker, the state forester, says Collins deserves credit for deciding to keep the mill going despite the lost value, telling Harlan and others: “You’re making the best of a really bad situation ... (a lot of) people might have walked away from that. You’ve made a choice to stick with the community. That’s worthy of note; that’s pretty remarkable.”

If Collins were to close the Lakeview mill, 70-plus people would be out of work. Also, the loss of the mill would make it much harder to do the forest restoration work the collaborative and the Forest Service are trying to ramp up.

"The first priority"

A year after the fire, it’s clear there were and still are some sharply contrasting approaches among state and federal agencies about how to respond to wildfires.

The Barry Point Fire repeatedly challenged the resources and abilities of the managers assigned to it. The team charged with managing the fire was upgraded several times as the fire grew more difficult. While those management transitions were deemed necessary at the time, they may have complicated communication and coordination of the firefighting effort, at least for a time. This became even more complex as the fire eventually burned on two national forests and private land in two states – which means multiple agencies were having to talk and coordinate their work.

Nancy Hirsch, the chief of ODF’s Fire Protection Division, suggests that different agencies, particularly the Forest Service and ODF, have different policies and values, which probably affected decisions about how and where to fight the fire. ODF is responsible for protecting private forestland from fire, while the Forest Service is responsible for fire on national forests.

“For a variety of reasons, we’ve seen a lack of active management out there on a lot of the federal land in Oregon,” Hirsch says. “As a result, people have lost track of the real value of trees to the private landowners next door, who are actively growing and harvesting them.”

As Barry Shullanberger, Deputy Fire Staff Officer for the Fremont-Winema National Forest, describes the issue, “Everybody’s values are different.” Some people have timber, some have cattle, some have homes – and all may be threatened by the fire and all may require resources to be spread in different directions.

He says that for the Forest Service, too, “Private property was always the first priority.”

A couple dozen private landowners lost timber, fencing or other property in the fire, Collins just being the largest. But no homes were lost, even those within the fire perimeter.

The Forest Service has a long-standing agreement to sell Collins 10 million board feet of timber per year from another part of the Fremont-Winema, which was untouched by the fire. That’s about a third of what Collins processes annually. Tracy Beck, acting supervisor of the forest, says the Forest Service this year agreed to boost that to 15 million board feet a year.

“We’ll keep that up until their lands and others recover,” Beck says.

A firefighter prepares to battle a ground fire

Lessons learned

The tour wrapped up with an hour-long discussion of the lessons learned, which boil down to a few themes:

  • The need for better communication and coordination – among agencies and between fire managers and crews on the ground. When new management teams were brought in to handle the growing fire, Pittman says, they often didn’t fully recognize the responsibility and capacities of ODF and local agencies.
  • Hirsch emphasizes that people from different agencies who may end up on a fire together spend time getting to know each other before the fire season starts. “You need to make that phone call, go out for a cup of coffee and gain an understanding of the values at risk – particularly those of private landowners,” she says.
  • Fire management teams need to continue to be educated about the value of property, such as ranchers’ barbed-wire fences, which can cost up to $15,000 per mile, as well as standing timber.
  • Fire managers need to communicate better with landowners, large and small. “We need to throw a lot bigger net out there,” Pittman says, “and start contacting those landowners who may potentially be impacted … Often times landowners got frustrated simply because they didn’t know what was going on.”
  • Finally, the fact that the Barry Point Fire burned 93,000 acres and yet completely missed forest restoration projects that had been completed indicates that the pace of restoration work – to improve the conditions that fueled the fire in the first place – is too slow: “We’ve got to figure out how to accelerate the process,” Walls says.

Hirsch says the lessons from Barry Point, especially the communication with landowners, improved this last fire season during the fighting of several large fires. “We were talking to the right people, and that’s vital when you have that magnitude of loss,” she says.

Shullanberger agreed that communication is a big lesson. This past year he says, “The ODF and the Forest Service, we talked a lot more often. We knew exactly what to do if the event happens. And we understand more of each other’s role.”

“It will take a long time for that healing to happen,” he adds. “The hopeful thing is that we learn from it and try to get better.”

 

+ + +

To view more images from the Barry Point Fire, visit the Fremont Winema National Forest Flikr gallery of the fire.

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