Prescribed Burning in Ponderosa Pine Forests: An Historical and Ecological Discussion of the Blue Mountain Region of Oregon

TitlePrescribed Burning in Ponderosa Pine Forests: An Historical and Ecological Discussion of the Blue Mountain Region of Oregon
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsNorman, Katherine N.
Academic DepartmentEnvironmental Science
Thesis AdvisorMuir, Patricis S.
DegreeHonors Baccalaureate of Arts in Environmental Science and Botany in International Studies
Number of Pages36
Date Published06/2004
UniversityOregon State University
Thesis TypeUndergraduate
Keywordsfire, oregon, ponderosa pine, prescribed burning

The ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) ecosystems of the Blue Mountain region of Oregon require periodic disturbance of fire to maintain the "seral" ponderosa population. Native people of this region utilized fire as a method for improving forage, hunting, defense, and travel. In the 1900's, European-American settlers moved to this region and claimed homesteads. Settlers disliked the smoke from fires and feared damage to personal property. After several large fires that killed dozens of people, a "no-burn" policy was adopted by the European American settlers to control wildfires and prevent underburning (light burning of underbrush). The fire suppression policy, which lasted for 60 years, led to increased fuel loads and stagnant stands. Large wildfires and improved understanding of fire as a disturbance factor renewed interest in fire ecology. As early as the 1960's, ecologists began to understand the importance of fire and the need to incorporate it into their management strategies. The "let-burn" policy adopted by the National Park Service in the 1960's was accompanied by the implementation of prescribed burning in National Parks.
Fire affects all aspects of the ecosystem, including soil, vegetation, and species diversity. These effects are not always well understood, however, and misuse of fire can lead to financial and ecological losses. Costs of prescribed burning must account for the liability of these losses. Associated costs of prescribed burns include planning, staffing of the burn, and control measures used to keep the fire in check. Currently, these costs can be prohibitive and often mechanical thinning is more advantageous. In the future, prescribed burning may provide a more economical alternative. Research and understanding is still in its infancy, but knowledge will undoubtedly improve with use of prescribed burning. Prescribed burning has a historical place in the Blue Mountains and may provide a sustainable, economical management strategy for maintaining this unique region.