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Prescribed burns are an important part of wildfire management.

In a time of increasing wildfire activity, Oregon State University Extension Service has implemented a new statewide fire program to facilitate forest and range management plans for reducing fire risk.  The program will also promote increased understanding of fire risk and methods for managing risk through local education and outreach efforts.

The program, led by the OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Program and the College of Forestry, focuses on creating opportunities for landowners by building partnerships.
 
“You can think of the fire program team as ‘boundary spanners,’” said Carrie Berger, associate program leader for the Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Program. “The team will work to build those important partnerships that are so crucial to mitigating Oregon’s risk of catastrophic wildfire.”
 
With funding allocated by the Oregon Legislature, the fire program will hire a director, a state fire specialist, and six regional fire specialists. The specialists will be strategically placed in areas of greatest risk and need as the growing program expands the impact of current efforts and builds on existing partnerships.
 
“Over the last year, advances in the fire program have assisted landscape-scale progress in Lake and Klamath counties, where OSU Extension is working with partners to create consistent land management plans for private landowners and creating an economy of scale to make a positive difference on the ground,” Berger said. “As a result, 60,000 to 70,000 acres on both private and public lands have been treated to lessen fire risk by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health and restoring wildlife habitat. Other efforts have focused on defensible space treatments across ownership boundaries. Benefits are being realized for ecosystems, communities and economies.”
 
“If we can prioritize where need is the greatest in the state and come up with a diagnosis of what needs to be done, we can come up with a prescription of management treatments. That’s where we’re headed,” said Daniel Leavell, OSU’s Extension forester who has over 40 years of fire experience.
 
While Oregon didn’t see much fire last year, in 2018, Oregon’s cost to fight wildfires hit a record high of $514 million with over 800,000 acres burned. Fuels in forests, woodlands and ranges have built up in the last 100 years due to fire suppression, Leavell noted. Fires start sooner and burn hotter with drier weather. More homes are located on the edges and middle of forests and woodlands that used to be remote areas. Homes are built in greater numbers and higher densities than ever before. These boxes of fuel are filled with synthetic materials that also burn hotter.
 
“We used to have 30 minutes to respond to a house fire,” Leavell said. “Now with synthetics, laminates and artificial composites throughout homes, we have three minutes. We need to be prepared for that.
 
“In addition to partnership building, education is essential to prepare landowners, land managers, emergency responders, policy makers, educators and the public to work together to plan for wildfire as the threat continues to climb,” Leavell said. “We’re trying to shift attitudes to be more proactive than reactive.
 
OSU Extension has been offering education programs and resources on Wildfire Preparedness out of the Hood River Extension office and other County Extension offices across the state. The new Extension Fire Program will provide a much-needed boost, scaling up to enable large scale planning and treatment to reduce fire severity and damage at the landscape level.
 
For more information, see the research-based educational materials about wildfire, online at catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/topic/forestry-and-wood-processing/wildfire and knowyourforest.org/learning-library/reducing-fire-hazard.
 
If you are interested in getting involved with the OSU Extension fire education program, contact Glenn Ahrens at 503-655-8631 or glenn.ahrens@oregonstate.edu.
 
About OSU Extension Service
The Oregon State University Extension Service shares research-based knowledge with people and communities in Oregon’s 36 counties. OSU Extension addresses issues that matter to urban and rural Oregonians. OSU Extension’s partnerships and programs contribute to a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future for Oregon.
 
Kim Pokorny is with OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications, and Glenn Ahrens is an OSU Extension Forester, Clackamas, Hood River, and Marion counties.

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