A drone shot of the Coyote Area after the Bootleg Fire.
Through the Fire default © Brady Holden

Stories in Oregon

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.

Through the Fire In summer of 2021, the Bootleg Fire burned across more than 413,000 acres of southern Oregon, making it the third largest wildfire in Oregon history. Nearly 15,000 of those acres were on The Nature Conservancy's Sycan Marsh 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 had built these relationships on the ground through prescribed burning. Our staff know each other. We know each other’s skills. We were prepared so we could help bring out-of-town firefighters up to speed quickly.

Fire Program Manager at The Nature Conservancy in Oregon

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.