Wildfire in Oregon elicits powerful responses from all walks of life, whether it’s from concerned citizens, landowners, firefighters or others. In September 2020, Oregon faced a series of catastrophic wildfires that burned approximately 1 million acres. Federal, state and private lands were impacted. Causes are being investigated, and although I understand there are many considerations, the sustained winds and drought conditions meant that regardless of ownership or management, most everything within the pathway of these fires burned. My heart still hurts for all the loss, even though the fires were months ago. The loss of life, of homes and other structures, of timber, and of wildlife and wildlife habitat – these losses will be felt for generations. We’re all looking for ways we can help.
Conversations with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) staff have given me hope that most of the wildlife that live in Oregon’s forests survived these fires. Some were able to directly escape, while others sheltered in place by burrowing deep into the soil or finding unburned areas such as streams and lakes to hunker down. However, a million acres is a lot of burned area that’s not providing the same food sources for wildlife that it once did, for the time being.
There are many “after-the-fire” actions forest landowners can implement, and we recommend visiting fire-resource websites specifically designed to help landowners. Here are two great sites:
It’s important to note that specific actions for wildlife are not always included in suggestions for how to restore forests after wildfire. One simple action landowners can do is to spread a wildlife-friendly seed mix in burned areas. A seed mix will have several benefits. It can help combat invasive species, provide erosion control and offer forage opportunities for wildlife. It can be tough to decide between using a native or non-native mix; we recommend native. If you choose to go with a non-native variety, plant a mix that’s not invasive and will be outcompeted by native vegetation within a few years. Good places to spread seed mix include on fire lines and fire access roadside edges, within burned stands, along riparian areas and slopes leading to riparian areas, and on landings after salvage logging operations are complete. Seed can be spread by hand, from a drone or helicopter, or by hydroseeding. Partner opportunities may be available from or others., the
Spring is a great time to plant the seed mixes. The winter was tough for a lot of wildlife, but firsthand reports from the fire line indicate there’s a lot of new growth already coming up. Applying a seed mix is our way of being intentional about what forage will be available for wildlife.
For specific details on where to find seed mixes, what should be in the mix, and how to apply them, check out the Oregon Forest Resources Institute’s new “Seed mixes for wildlife” fact sheet.
For more information on helping wildlife after wildfire, please contact me directly at [email protected]visit the following websites:
Fran Cafferata Coe, CWB®
Contract Wildlife Biologist
Oregon Forest Resources Institute
And the truth is, we can’t wait for the sounds of squeals, shouts, singing and laughter to return to our tour site.
We miss the sound of students participating in Port Blakely’s Environmental Education program. During non-pandemic times, every spring and fall hundreds of kids clamber off their school buses and into the woods. Each class enjoys their own forest field day, a follow-up to our company’s in-class forestry curriculum. Every child gains an intimate, hands-on, positive experience in the woods, learning about wildlife habitat, sustainable forestry, carbon sequestration and clean water.
When it’s safe to resume, the program will reach a prodigious milestone: It will host its 100,000th visitor!
Port Blakely’s Environmental Education program started in Washington state 30 years ago, and has been running in Oregon since 2001. In 2009, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) started contributing to the program’s bus transportation costs to get students out into the forest. Since then, nearly 17,000 students, teachers and chaperones have received free busing to and from our forest tour site in Molalla, courtesy of OFRI.
Schoolchildren throughout Oregon benefit from free transportation to forest-related field trips such as ours through the OFRI bus transportation reimbursement program. Teachers tell us all the time how vital no-cost field trips are because most of our participating schools have no funding for field trips.
Even more shocking – many of the students who visit our forestland tell us, “I’ve never been in a forest before.” With nearly half of our state covered in trees, and the future of Oregon’s forests in their hands, it’s crucial to educate Oregon schoolchildren about the significant role forests play in our environment and the contributions they make in our daily lives.
So we are waiting (mostly) patiently for forest field trips to resume, and for students to exclaim in wonder or laugh in delight or simply sit in silence counting how many sounds of wildlife they can hear, once field trips bring them back into the woods we love.
Environmental Educator & Community Liaison
When an ice storm warning went out to central Willamette Valley residents in mid-February, I recall the term “significant icing” standing out to me as I read the warning. I would soon come to discover this meant that I and my family would spend an entire night lying awake listening to trees crack, topple and fall due to that significant icing. It sounded like firework explosions for 12 hours straight, or thunder without any lightning. In the light of the next morning, the full story of destruction and devastation was revealed.
Our home was unscathed, but many Oregonians had damage to their houses, cars, trees and forested properties after the storm. The aftermath looked much like hurricane damage, with hundreds of power poles and lines on the ground and tree debris everywhere. Many central Willamette Valley residents spent the first few hours and days following the storm clearing driveways and roads to allow safe passage. As with many natural disasters, communities and neighbors came together. Many checked that their neighbors were warm and fed, since thousands were without power, and made safety and welfare a first priority. For one neighbor of ours, I’m not sure if she was more thankful for the neighborhood crew that cleared her long driveway, or for the delivery of some hot coffee and breakfast.
As the ice thawed and roads cleared, I made my way to the in Silverton that OFRI has helped manage for the past 20 years. The conifer trees in the Rediscovery Forest vary in age from young seedlings to about 50 years old. When I surveyed the storm damage in the forest, it was the younger conifer trees – varying from teenagers to into their twenties – that seemed to be the most affected, with broken tops and trees uprooted or snapped. The older conifer trees also lost a lot of limbs and some tops, and a few of these trees also came down in the storm., a 15-acre demonstration forest inside
In the rest of The Oregon Garden, it was heartbreaking to see some of the several-hundred-year-old Oregon white oak trees had either snapped or been uprooted, broken or damaged. In general, hardwood trees seemed to sustain some of the worst damage. The Oregon Garden’s, a , remained standing, but many of its branches were damaged.
What happened to the Rediscovery Forest and The Oregon Garden is just a reflection of the thousands of acres in Oregon forests that were impacted by last month’s ice storm. Some of it even overlapped with the burned areas from the Labor Day Fires in 2020.
“Winter storms are a naturally occurring phenomena in our region’s forests, but they can have many negative impacts, including increased susceptibility to insects and pathogens, fire risk from added ground fuels, habitat loss for fish and wildlife, damaged or blocked roads and culverts, safety hazards for landowners and forest workers, and reduced aesthetic value and economic losses,” reports Brad Withrow-Robinson of Oregon State University’s . Find out more about storm safety and recovery .
Many people who were affected by the storm have lamented a favorite tree being impacted, or how hard it was to decide to cut or save a tree. The Oregon Department of Forestry’s Urban Forestry Program has put together aon tree care after a storm.
Some clean-up after the storm can be done using hand tools and a lot of sweat equity. In other cases, especially with anything that is potentially hazardous, it’s better to call in a trained arborist. You can find an arborist in your area through the.
It’s also never too early to start thinking about what you might plant to replace trees lost in the storm. If you live in a more urban setting, consult with your local ordinances and make sure to think about the right tree for the right place; many cities have tree-species preference lists. For those who live in a more remote forest landscape or own forestland, OFRI offers a useful guide calledthat includes tips on selecting the right species to plant and how to properly plant seedlings. You can also find technical assistance for your area by visiting , a website aimed at Oregon forest landowners that’s managed by OFRI and other members of the .
Oregonians and our forests are resilient, but it has been a challenging year for both. From now on, I would prefer if “significant icing” were only used in reference to desserts and cakes.
From the woods,
Senior Manager of Forestry Education
In light of 2020’s devastating fire season, I was recently asked these two questions. To answer them, I turned to data published by the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis program, orand employed a bit of creative math.
The 2020 Labor Day fires burned approximately 1 million acres of Oregon forestland. To estimate how many trees were burned in these fires, I needed an estimate of how many trees we had in Oregon before the fires, and how many trees per acre of forestland we have.
To estimate the number of trees killed in the Labor Day fires, I used an estimate of trees per acre (tpa) to go with our acreage estimate of 1 million acres. Table 18 from FIA’sbefore the Labor Day fires
Combining this number with the estimate of 1 million acres burned in the 2020 fires, and assuming that the acres burned in a similar manner across the tree size classes, gives us an estimate of 347 million trees killed in the Labor Day fires. Using the estimate of 10.28 billion trees before the Labor Day fires and subtracting the estimated 347 million trees killed in those fires leaves an estimated 9.93 billion trees. That means the trees burned in the 2020 wildfires represent about 3.5% of the trees growing in Oregon.
Now that we’ve estimated how many trees we had before the fires, how many were killed in the fires, and thus how many trees we have left after the fires, we can figure out if we still have more trees than we did 100 years ago. To do this, we need to look at the amount of forestland in Oregon now versus 100 years ago, how the size distribution has changed over time, and how that has affected the number of trees.
estimates the total amount of forestland in various states over time. The closest estimate we have for total forest area in Oregon 100 years ago is 1920, when Forest Resources of the United States estimates we had approximately 30.3 million acres of forestland. Based on the report’s findings, we can see that in 2017 we had about 29.6 million acres of forestland, nearly 98% of the forestland area we had in 1920. Unfortunately, the only data we have for 1920 is an estimate of forest area. However, we do have excellent estimates of timber volume by state back to 1953, and estimates of net volume for regions by tree-diameter classes back to 1953. The forests of 1953 are not exactly the forests of 1920. However, the 1953 data says we had 30.3 million acres of forestland in Oregon – the same as the estimate for 1920.
Another helpful estimate from Forest Resources is the net volume of timber by tree-diameter classes and regions for 1953 through 2017. The relationship between diameter class and trees per acre allows us to estimate the number of trees in 1953 at 8.17 billion trees (I’ll spare you this math).
Although I’m unable to accurately estimate how many trees there were in Oregon 100 years ago, my conclusion is that there are many more trees in Oregon today than there were in 1953. In fact, my estimate is that we have about 1.76 billion more trees today than in 1953.
Now that I’ve done the math, I think it’s safe to say that we have upwards of 2 billion more trees in Oregon today than we did 67 years ago, even after losing nearly 350 million trees in the Labor Day fires. Some good news after such a rough fire season that had a devastating impact on our state’s forests and communities.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry