August 31, 2005
So much for stealth in the woods. Oregon’s archery deer and elk seasons opened this Saturday at near-record low fuel moisture levels statewide. Crunching as they walk through grasses, shrubs and trees, bowhunters and outdoor recreationists alike are urged to take extra care and precautions this season to avoid starting wildfires.
Public lands are currently open to recreationists, but fire safety restrictions are in force on all jurisdictions. While the rules vary slightly between federal and state lands, in general hunters will be in compliance if they abstain from building campfires and warming fires, limit the use of motorized vehicles to established roads and confine smoking to inside closed vehicles.
Public land managers have good reason for imposing these restrictions on activities in the woods. Every year in Oregon, about two-thirds of the wildfires are caused by people.
The common causes hold for hunters as well as other recreationists: Unattended campfires that spread to adjacent vegetation. The current parched conditions have made the open flame of a campfire an unacceptable risk.
The same goes for warming fires. Even though the afternoons can reach the 80s or even 90s, early mornings are chilly at higher altitudes. A warming fire built while a hunter is sitting on the hillside watching for game is a comfortable convenience, but one that all too often becomes a forest fire. A warming fire left burning or only partially extinguished can spread quickly as it responds to the midday temperature rise and accompanying decline in humidity.
Under the open-flame ban, layered clothing will have to substitute for warming fires this season.
Driving or riding motorized vehicles off established roads is another leading cause of fires. Four-wheelers, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles pose a common threat from the heat and sparks they generate. Current fire conditions make it too dangerous for any off-road use of motorized vehicles.
Even while traveling on established roads, recreationists are cautioned to select their pull-off points carefully. Tall, dry vegetation on the side of the road can ignite if it contacts the exhaust system.
Discarded cigarettes perennially rank among the leading causes of wildfires every year. Smokers who visit the forest must confine their habit to inside closed vehicles or buildings.
The high fire danger has prompted private industrial forest landowners to close their lands to all visitors due to the wildfire risk.
Hunters wishing more information on fire restrictions are encouraged to contact the local land management agency where they plan to hunt.