Forest Service tries new wildfire control strategy in Oregon

Forest Service tries new wildfire controlstrategy in Oregon

9 June 2007

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Oregon, USA — A new strategy to influence wildfire behavior is getting atest in the forest west of La Pine.

The idea behind the U.S. Forest Service experiment is to determine whethertreated areas would be able to change the direction of a wildfire, or slow itdown, making it easier for firefighters to tackle.

The agency decided Friday to log or thin out trees in areas specificallyselected to influence fire behavior on a 160,000-acre stretch of mixed coniferforest.

The strategic placement of treatment areas across a big chunk of land already isdrawing support from environmental groups, such as The Nature Conservancy.

“It’s just a smart way of looking at the landscape,” said Amy Waltz,fire ecologist with the conservancy.

The strategic placement is a way for fire to play a more appropriate role inthe forest, she said.

After the 2003 Davis Fire burned 21,000 acres in the area, the Forest Servicelooked at what was left, including vegetation similar to what the burned areawas like before it caught fire, said Marcy Boehme, environmental specialist withthe Crescent Ranger District.

They then tried to figure out what to do to avoid a fire of that scale again,she said.

After more than two years of analysis and computer modeling about what wouldwork best on the landscape, the Forest Service came up with three options. Thealternative that will be used involves conducting commercial logging on about4,300 acres, while removing smaller fuels on more than 3,500 acres out of the160,000-acre project area.

“What we’re doing is kind of the minimum amount of treatments that wecan to reduce risk,” Boehme said. “We don’t want to modify latesuccessional habitat if we can help it, but we do want to avoid having it justgo.”

The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fire Learning Network, an association ofgroups and agencies that includes the conservancy, have not yet taken a stand onactivities in the late successional reserves, Waltz said.

But after a century of fire suppression, the natural fire cycles do need toreturn to the forest, and this strategic placement of treatment areas could beone way to do it across the landscape, she said.

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