Rx: Fire

Controlled burn in Oregon
Prescribed Burn in Oregon Fire on the ground near Camp Sherman, OR, during a TREX training for controlled burning © Brady Holden

A century of fire suppression has left our forests wildly out of balance. And climate change is only making things worse.

Wildfires are becoming more intense, burning larger areas, threatening communities and producing more smoke. Science tells us that the best way to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire is to restore our forests to their natural state with controlled or prescribed burns.

Prescribed Fire Reduces Catastrophic Wildfire Risk The Nature Conservancy supports the proven science of carefully controlled burns at the right place and the right time, keeping our communities safe, preserving habitats, protecting our natural resources, and ensuring that our forests will remain healthy.

Oregonians are extremely concerned with wildfires and their impacts – risk to life and homes; harm to the health of our forests, watersheds and wildlife habitats; and negative economic implications for businesses. Significant policy reform and increased investment are needed to change the trajectory and after years of study and collaborative discussion there is a clear path ahead.

Proactive Policies

In 2021, TNC is working to advance several pieces of legislation that would make the right policy changes and investments to help our landscapes and communities be more resilient to wildfire. These bills offer the chance to take proactive steps to support healthy, resilient ecosystems and livable communities for generations to come. 

SB 762: Making Oregon Forests and Communities More Resilient to Wildfire 

Oregon needs to take a forward-looking, comprehensive approach to achieve community preparedness and wildfire risk reduction, and we must act before the next wildfire season hits. This bill will take immediate steps to address wildfire risk, build community preparedness and ensure that our communities can adapt and heal after inevitable wildfire events. It proposes enhancements to health systems for smoke, emergency response and disaster recovery, and sets our state on a strong trajectory to achieve ecological dry forest and rangeland restoration in strategic, high-priority landscapes. 

HB 3160: Investing in Wildfire Preparedness, Mitigation and Response

It’s time for Oregon to invest in proven wildfire mitigation and preparedness strategies and help communities and our ecosystems recover from wildfire. This bill proposes a simple, affordable, and common-sense approach to funding solutions to Oregon’s wildfire crisis. A simple $10 annual fee on some property insurance policies will generate a stable, ongoing funding source to reduce wildfire damage and cost. Funds will provide support for firefighters to ensure public health and safety; planning and preparedness to protect homes and communities from wildfire; science-based fuels reduction and forest resilience treatments to reduce wildfire risk; and wildfire recovery, reforestation, and drinking watershed protection.

HB 2571 and HB 2572: Enhancing Support for Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire, or controlled burning, is the intentional application of fire to live or dead vegetation for land management purposes. It mimics natural fires and is very effective at reducing hazardous fuels and restoring ecological conditions. We can get more good fire back on the landscape by removing barriers to prescribed fire implementation. HB 2571 requires a study to understand legal and insurance barriers to conducting more prescribed fire in Oregon, and reviews policies and best practices from other states. 

HB 2572 launches the State Certified Burn Manager program to increase the number of trained prescribed fire practitioners, and ensures that neighboring property owners can work together to plan and execute prescribed burns. With millions of acres of Oregon in need of restoration, it’s time to increase use of prescribed fire in Oregon to improve forest resilience, save money, and protect communities.

Why Are Wildfires Getting Worse?

For more than a century, people have removed fire's natural role in our forests by suppressing natural fires. This has thrown our forests out of balance and caused an abundance of overgrowth. When wildfires occur in overgrown forests, they are larger and more intense and put plants, animals, and communities at risk. Hotter, drier conditions caused by climate change are drying out overgrowth and making forests more flammable.

What Can We Do?

The science is clear. Controlled—or prescribed—burns combined with ecological thinning are a proven way to restore Oregon’s dry forests. By managing the natural process of fire on the landscape, instead of preventing it, we can improve habitats for native plants and animals and reduce the risk of out-of-control wildfires.

How Does a Controlled Burn Work?

Controlled burns mimic natural fires. They are strategically designed by a team of fire experts and only occur under the safest conditions. Ecological thinning often takes place before a burn to optimize outcomes.

Where and When Do We Burn?

Controlled burns are conducted where there is the greatest need for forest restoration and the biggest risk of out-of-control wildfire. They are directed in a way that is safe, controlled, and aligned with the values all Oregonians care about, such as clean air. Burning occurs during the spring and fall, when conditions and the many variables are just right.

Forest regrowth after a fire in Sweet Home, OR. This photo was entered into The Nature Conservancy's 2018 Photo Contest.
Forest regrowth in Oregon Forest regrowth after a fire in Sweet Home, OR. This photo was entered into The Nature Conservancy's 2018 Photo Contest. © Cindy Christina