- The purpose of this report is to review existing wildfire prevention activities and recommend strategies to reduce the number and severity of human-caused wildfires in Oregon.
Oregon’s forest protection system was created in 1911. At that time, timber harvesting, forest management, and other land-clearing activities were the predominant uses of forestland and the cause of most of Oregon’s wildland fires. As a result, the forest protection system was structured to address fires started by these activities.
Since that time, there has been a fundamental shift in the use of Oregon’s forestlands. Recreational visitors and rural residents now outnumber wood workers in Oregon forests. Due to the Oregon Department of Forestry’s (ODF) strong emphasis on industrial wildfire prevention and a significant reduction in industry slash burning over the past 20 years, forest management activities now result in relatively few wildfires.
Human-caused fires on ODF-protected lands are now mostly related to property-owner activities on small parcels of land in the wildland-urban interface and to recreation visitors. For example, debris disposal fires are increasing. Other traditional causes such as carelessness with campfires continue to warrant attention, especially as concerns over forest health and drought increase. To address this shift, ODF’s prevention activities now include a greater orientation toward rural residential and public use-related fires.
Most ODF prevention efforts focus on specific local fire causes at the district level, except for the Keep Oregon Green Association (KOG) that works under contract with ODF to conduct a mass media campaign and large-scale public awareness. Prevention is assigned to many district level personnel, but is usually viewed as a collateral duty. A greater effort is needed to educate homeowners about preventing specific human-caused fires that could occur on their properties.
In Oregon, forest communities are undergoing substantial ecological and social change. The threat of large, severe wildfires has become part of this dynamic. But this situation does not need to be a case of waiting for the next big fire to erupt. In these communities there is a direct relationship between wildfire prevention, the ultimate need for wildfire suppression, and resulting fire damage. A well coordinated, multi-partner prevention program can reduce the cost of suppression activities and the risk to personal property and important forest resources.