Malheur NF on managing natural ignitions

JOHN DAY, PRAIRIE CITY & HINES, OR – (Press Release from the Malheur National Forest)

Lightning is the primary cause of wildfires in the forested regions of the Pacific Northwest. It plays a natural role in ecosystem health and can serve as a land management tool. As such, wildland firefighters are trained to use wildfire and apply prescribed fires across the landscape when it is safe and reasonable. Allowing a lightning-caused fire to burn naturally is not the ‘Let It Burn’ policy of before.

Wildfire activity over the last ten years has been some of the most catastrophic in U.S. history: In 2020, more than 10.1 million acres burned throughout the country, which set a record for acres burned since accurate recording and data gathering began.

Across the West, wildfire activity is starting earlier in the spring and lasting longer into the fall; above normal fire activity periods typically last 75 days longer than 40 years ago.

Today’s firefighters will manage naturally occurring wildfires to improve wildlife habitat, heavy fuel loads and restore the ecological balance of natural landscapes. In doing so, many factors come into play. Is the fire accessible? How dry is the dead and down fuel? Is the weather hot, dry or windy? Is the fire in steep terrain? Is it burning near a community? What type and how many resources are available? Fire experts access multiple conditions to determine the best tactics to employ.

Did you know fire can be good for people and the land? After many years of fire exclusion, an ecosystem that needs periodic fire becomes unhealthy. Trees are stressed by overcrowding; fire-dependent species disappear; and flammable fuels build up and become hazardous. The right fire at the right place at the right time:

• Reduces hazardous fuels, protecting human communities from extreme fires;

• Minimizes the spread of pest insects and disease;

• Removes unwanted species that threaten species native to an ecosystem;

• Provides forage for game;

• Improves habitat for threatened and endangered species;

• Recycles nutrients back to the soil; and

• Promotes the growth of trees, wildflowers, and other plants;

The Forest Service manages natural ignitions to benefit natural resources and reduce the risk of unwanted wildfires in the future.

“We will capitalize on our interdependence to share resources in meeting our goals; employ risk management practices to elevate our decision making; leverage new technology; and recommit ourselves to excellent land stewardship.” said Chief Christiansen. “In 2021, we will drive to improve the condition of our Nation’s forests and grasslands”.