Monster wildfire tests years of forest management efforts

In this photo provided by the Bootleg Fire Incident Command, the Bootleg Fire burns in the background behind the Sycan Marsh in southern Oregon
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The nation’s largest wildfire provided wildlife researchers in Oregon with an unexpected experiment.

Ecologists in a vast region of wetlands and forests have spent the past decade thinning young trees and using planned fires to try to restore the thick stands of ponderosa to a less fire-prone state.

As the massive inferno known as the Bootleg Fire roared into the Sycan Marsh Preserve, firefighters said the flames jumped less from treetop to treetop and instead returned to the ground, where they were easier to fight, moved more slowly and did less damage to the overall forest.

The initial assessment suggests that the many years of forest treatments worked, said Pete Caligiuri, Oregon forest program director for The Nature Conservancy, which runs the research at the preserve

“Generally speaking, what firefighters were reporting on the ground is that when the fire came into those areas that had been thinned … it had significantly less impact.”

The reports were bittersweet for researchers, who still saw nearly 20 square miles of the preserve burn, but the findings add to a growing body of research about how to make wildfires less explosive by thinning undergrowth and allowing forests to burn periodically — as they naturally would do — instead of snuffing out every flame.

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