May is officially Wildfire Awareness Month. But really, fire awareness and prevention is something we should be practicing every day, especially as we enter the dry summer months.
The catastrophic Labor Day wildfires of 2020 in Oregon are still a fresh reminder of how deadly and quick wildfires can be. The goal of Wildfire Awareness Month is to encourage all citizens to take steps to better prepare their home and communities for wildfires, and work toward becoming a fire-adapted community. Numerous fire prevention agencies and organizations are working together to increase awareness of human-caused wildfires by offering opportunities for people to participate in community fire prevention projects.
When it comes to preventing wildfires, there’s a lot at stake – lives, personal property, and the many values provided by Oregon’s forests and rangelands. In the wildland-urban interface, where residential areas abut forests and other wildlands, wildfires are often started by human activity such as debris burning or lawn mowing, and then spread to the forest. Once underway, a fire follows the fuel, whether it is trees or houses.
The good news is that simple prevention strategies can go a long way toward making your home, family and community safer. Spring is the perfect time to remove dead, flammable vegetation and limb up trees around the yard, making it less likely for a wildfire to spread to your home. Many Oregonians are also gearing up right now for the summer camping season, providing a great opportunity to refresh yourself on campfire safety to prevent the next forest fire.
In that spirit, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute recently awarded a $200,000 grant to the nonprofit Keep Oregon Green Association that will allow them to ramp up their wildfire prevention outreach of encouraging the public to create defensible space around their homes and prevent careless, unwanted wildfires this summer.
About 75% of the wildfires that break out in Oregon each year are human-caused. The number one cause is debris burns, followed by equipment and campfires, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. We all have a part to play and we can make a difference. The following are fire awareness and prevention actions you can take:
1. Prepare yourself and your family for a potential evacuation:
· watch the Oregon State University webinar Be ready, Be Set, Go!
2. Be aware of your actions and the risks they pose at home and at work:
· watch the Fire Safe Home video
· prepare your home for wildfire
3. Be aware of your actions and the risks they pose while out and about:
· watch the Fire Safety Fact Break video
· dive into fire prevention with Oregon Department of Forestry, including knowing fire closures
Thank you to all the firefighters and support crews who are preparing for the upcoming season. (Take a look inside the career of one courageous wildland firefighter here). Please help firefighters by reducing the risks of fires through being fire aware and working with your local fire department to be educated about community preparedness and evacuation plans.
If you are a forest landowner, there are also numerous actions you can also take to ensure the health of your forest and mitigate the potential risks from wildfire. Those topics are explored on the landowner education website KnowYourForest.org.
As Smokey Bear reminds us, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
From the forest,
Senior Manager of Forestry Education
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 ODFW, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board or others.
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 here.
For more information on helping wildlife after wildfire, please contact me directly at [email protected] or 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 Rediscovery Forest, a 15-acre demonstration forest inside The Oregon Garden 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.
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 Signature Oak, a heritage tree, 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 Forestry & Natural Resources Extension program. Find out more about storm safety and recovery here.
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 a list of useful resources and information on 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 International Society of Arboriculture.
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 called Establishing and Managing Forest Trees in Western Oregon that 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 KnowYourForest.org, a website aimed at Oregon forest landowners that’s managed by OFRI and other members of the Partnership for Forestry Education.
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