As fire season bears down on the High Desert, many people think about the immediate damage but not the clean-up that follows.
The Grandview Fire, which began on July 11, 2021, burned more than 6,000 acres. It burned mostly on the Crooked River National Grassland. some privately owned lands under the protection of the Oregon Department of Forestry and some Deschutes Land Trust managed lands.
The result? All of those burned acres, especially those by the road, heighten the possibility of burned trees falling and causing harm.
“But this is what our ecosystem has evolved with,” said Kassidy Kern, the Public Affairs Officer for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland.
An evolved ecosystem that’s used to the occasional fire, but that humans still aren’t. And burned trees can topple onto roads and potentially hurt passersby.
“Forest Service came in and evaluated all the trees for failure or potential to fail onto the road and survivability,” said Christian Benedict, a Forest Service representative.
“After a fire, making sure that you’re mitigating not necessarily the impacts of the fire on the landscape but the impacts on the land while the fire was being fought and put out,” said Rika Ayotte, the Deschutes Land Trust Executive Director.
For the Deschutes Land Trust, that means managing trees on their own without letting natural fires thin down forests. For the Forest Service, it means the private company with the highest bid takes the burnt wood as sellable lumber.
“At that point, the tree is then processed into log form and those logs are then decked and then loaded onto a log truck which is ultimately delivered to a local mill in the Pacific Northwest,” Benedict said.
But not every snag, or burned tree, should be taken out of the forest.
“Animals probably live better in a wildfire adapted ecosystem than as we do as humans,” Ayotte said “So in a lot of cases, wildfire is a necessary natural process that creates habitats.”
However, mitigation is used to keep landscapes resilient, despite the number of human caused fires that are so damaging here.
“You know it is important for us and the safety of our community to make sure that we balance leaving those natural snags and those fire impacted trees but also to make sure we’re not putting our communities and our folks at risk,” Ayotte said.
“It’s a very natural process that this would happen. We fully anticipate this to happen more,” Kern said “We’re more concerned about those human-caused starts.”
According to the Forest Service, humans are at fault for more than 150 fires every year in central Oregon.
“If we can eliminate those and keep our communities safe, we’re going to have a good fire season,” Kern said.
We talk a lot about mitigation to control fuel before a fire. Turns out, it’s just as important after a fire.