Through the Fire
Lessons from the Bootleg Fire
Proactive, science-based dry forest restoration, including ecological thinning and prescribed fire, is effective, essential and needs to be done on a landscape scale in Oregon.
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On July 6, 2021, a wildfire started by lightning burned for 39 days and charred 413,000 acres, including land that is home to members of The Klamath Tribes and The Nature Conservancy’s Sycan Marsh Preserve.
When Oregon’s Bootleg Fire entered TNC’s Sycan Marsh Preserve under extreme weather conditions, firefighters reported a dramatic change in fire behavior when the wildfire moved into areas where ecological thinning followed by prescribed burning had occurred.
Firefighters say flames that were 200 feet tall in adjacent unrestored forest areas quickly moved to the ground, behaving more like fire did historically in these dry forests.
Having these areas where treatments that included prescribed fire had restored a healthier dry forest ecosystem allowed firefighters to safely manage the wildfire and defend structures on the preserve.
That preparedness took many forms. Most Oregon land management staff have and maintain firefighting qualifications. Fire plans are updated annually, including preparations for the property’s facilities. TNC Fire Manager, Katie Sauerbrey and other TNC staff, have spent years building relationships with federal and state agency staff involved in fire management.
We have learned that we cannot and should not eliminate fire completely from our forests.
Over 100 years of fire suppression have caused excess vegetation to accumulate on the forest floor. When combined with climate change, this is now driving more intense, uncharacteristic fires in Oregon’s dry forests.
The quality, pace and scale of dry forest restoration treatments must be urgently increased on priority landscapes in Oregon based on the robust ecological restoration science we have at our disposal.