For Immediate Release, March 13, 2019
Oregon Needs New Approach to Forest, Fire Management
Gov. Brown’s Wildfire Council Ignores Wildfire Science, Won’t Make Communities Safe
ASHLAND, Ore.― Conservation groups are urging Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to include proven methods for protecting communities and firefighters in the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response. In a recent letter to the governor, the groups outline six recommendations as part of a proposed community protection alternative plan.
The governor should include expertise in defensible space and wildfire risk planning, climate change and forest-fire ecology on the Council, the groups said. Brown also should ensure a transparent process for the public and scientists to contribute to the council’s work.
“Our community protection alternative would most effectively accomplish the governor’s goals of keeping the public safe and protecting Oregon’s environment, which brings residents, visitors and businesses to our state,” said Luke Ruediger with the Applegate Network and Klamath Forest Alliance. “Unfortunately, public promises to eliminate smoke and stop wildfires are not realistic and are misleading. It may be counter intuitive, but we need more fire in the backcountry, where wildfires benefit forests and reduce fuels.”
Investing in home and firefighter protections will do far more to keep communities and firefighters safe than thinning backcountry forests. Research found that wildfires occur in only about 1 percent of U.S. Forest Service areas that have undergone fuel-reduction treatments. This suggests that landscape-scale thinning is not a cost-effective means of addressing wildfires.
“The chance of a forest fire encountering an area where fuels have been reduced is about 1 percent, but we’re 100 percent certain where there are communities at risk from wildfires,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Focusing resources on existing developments, rather than on logging in the backcountry, is the best way to protect communities with limited tax dollars.”
Wildfires are a natural and necessary ecological process. But a warming climate, fire suppression, clearcutting, and post-fire logging and tree planting practices have transformed portions of Oregon’s fire-resilient older forests to fire-prone landscapes.
Oregon also suffers from a lack of fire-safe building siting and construction practices. Homes that are easily ignited by embers are responsible for feeding urban conflagrations like those in Santa Rosa and Paradise, Calif. This risk can be greatly reduced by proven defensible space measures that prepare homes from the home outward instead of logging from wildlands inward.
“Thinning is appropriate in densely planted tree plantations that act as fire’s gasoline, but is being oversold as a panacea to stop fires and smoke that it simply cannot deliver on—especially in a warming climate where large fires overwhelm firefighting forces regardless of thinning efforts, said Dominick A. DellaSala, chief scientist with the Geos Institute. “Thinning forests away from houses does nothing to prevent those houses from burning.”
"Firefighters are needlessly being exposed to extra risk trying to protect vulnerable homes and communities, said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE). “If homes and communities are proactively prepared for fire, this dramatically improves their chance of surviving fire from any source or location, and greatly expands opportunities to ecologically managed fires in remote natural areas for the many benefits they provide in fuels reduction and forest restoration--virtually for free."
The Community Wildfire Protection Alternative recommendations:
- Emphasize reducing home ignitability and discourage new development in naturally fire-prone areas.
- Target thinning and prescribed fire in strategic locations surrounding communities on both public and private lands within a quarter-mile of residential lands. This will help provide safe spaces for wildlands firefighters.
- Address particulate pollution by improving state air-quality standards and restricting emissions from uses such as wood-burning stoves, automobiles and agriculture.
- Provide funding for fire/smoke shelters, tax rebates for HEPA filters and upgrades to HVAC systems, and aid to the most health-vulnerable segments of society by working with health care providers.
- Utilize both managed wildland fires in the backcountry and prescribed burns under safe conditions for multiple ecosystem benefits—including the most cost-effective way to restore forest ecosystems to have more natural amounts of burnable material.
- Prohibit logging practices that can increase unnatural wildfire risks such as clearcut/modified clearcutting, postfire logging, removal of large fire-resistant trees, excessive opening of forest canopies, and commercial logging operations that produce highly flammable, excess slash that is expensive and most often not feasible to remove.