Rx: Fire

Controlled burn in Oregon.
Controlled Burn in Oregon Fire moves through dry pine needles during a fire learning exchange (TREX) controlled burn in Camp Sherman, Oregon. © 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 (1:08) 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.

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.

Gray smoke hangs in the air of a dark forest.
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