OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU SCIENTISTS TO DISCUSS GROWING FIRE THREAT

10/11/2004

BLACK BUTTE RANCH - Forestry experts from Oregon State University will discuss local forest health and fire danger at the Black Butte Ranch Fire Station on Thursday, Oct. 14.

In addition to recommending increased care around properties, Hal Salwasser, dean of OSU's College of Forestry, and Stephen Fitzgerald, associate professor with the OSU Extension Forestry Program, will promote new management plans and more investment in fire science research, especially along the "urban-wildland interface" where human habitation meets Oregon's natural lands.

"We want to put researchers to work in your neighborhoods and watersheds to get ahead of the danger that waits with every dry, hot summer," said Salwasser. Despite decreasing public funds, OSU is committed to expanding research in urban-wildland interface areas such as Bend, Black Butte Ranch, Camp Sherman and Sisters, Salwasser said. The university is raising private funds to endow a chair in fire science and to establish a fellowship for graduate students to study interface issues.

As fires in 2002 and 2003 demonstrated, interface regions are particularly vulnerable to wildfire. Past Oregon wildfires have cost millions. While the 2004 fire season was calm in comparison, many of Oregon's forests are still thick with surface and ladder fuels, and pose a growing threat to the more than 240,000 homes built along the urban-wildland interface.

Historically, periodic, low-intensity fire is a natural part of the Cascade ecosystem, but today's fires are less frequent and more severe. Fitzgerald attributes the current unhealthy forests to multiple factors: a century of fire suppression policy, failure to thin tree and shrub understories, selective logging of large, fire-resistant trees and a shift in forest composition from predominantly pine to fir. Drought, insect infestations and disease also increase the wildfire threat. The complexity of the problem calls for immediate and long-term solutions with the collaboration of residents, land managers, and the scientific community. Homeowners on the interface should prune and thin trees, remove vegetation and woodpiles near homes, and remodel and build with fire-resistant materials. But property care alone is not enough, said Salwasser.

"We need bold management activities beyond the interface that thin lots of smaller trees, and reduce surface and ladder fuels under bigger older trees," he said. "We need to return forests to conditions where fire is more natural, manageable, less costly and less damaging to both ecosystems and properties." "The worst we can do is nothing," added Fitzgerald. "The current passive management system will only cause the situation to deteriorate further."