In what organizers have dubbed a "Week of Fire," forest scientists and fire managers will meet in Bend April 7-10 to discuss the latest research on fire ecology and its implications for forest management.
The week will include a series of events: the 3rd biennial Central Oregon Fire Science Symposium, the first meeting of the newly formed Oregon Prescribed Fire Council and a four-day training course, The Ecological and Social Effects of Fire in Central Oregon.
All activities will be held at the Central Oregon Community College. The public is welcome to attend, but registration fees apply to the training course and to the symposium. Attendance at the prescribed fire council meeting on April 10 is free. Schedule and registration information are available at http://centraloregonfiresymposium.org/.
"Fire science and management experience are coming together to really allow our profession to be able to deal with the growing challenge of managing forest fires," said John Bailey, a professor in the Oregon State University College of Forestry and one of the event planners.
"The spatial extent and cumulative severity of wildland fires are unprecedented recently in much of the West and are likely to continue or increase. Fuel accumulations have and continue to markedly outpace treatment rates, feeding these fires."
The fire-science symposium will run April 8-9. Bailey and speakers from Oregon State, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other organizations will address fire ecology, fire science and the potential benefits of using prescribed fire as a tool to reduce future fire risk.
"Forests in Central Oregon have evolved with fire," said Bailey. "It's not a matter of if they will burn; it's when and how. The science is there to show that working with fire to steer it instead of trying to stop it is safer, cheaper and more ecologically fitting for the land."
Since 2001, more than a million acres burned in Oregon alone during two fire seasons. Nationally, more than 8 million acres burned in six of those 12 years. Of particular concern is the growing number of large fires that burn uncontrollably and threaten life and property. In that same time, annual fire suppression costs have increased markedly and now consistently approach $2 billion.
"This is a bigger issue than the federal government can handle alone," said Geoff Babb of the Bureau of Land Management, one of the symposium organizers. "These fires cross jurisdictional boundaries and require that we work together with local and state governments and university scientists."
Highlights of the symposium include a presentation by Scott Stephens of the University of California, Berkeley, on the policy and management implications of last year's Rim Fire in California. A special memorial will be held for Bob Martin, a pioneer of prescribed burning who inspired generations of fire managers in Central Oregon.
The Oregon Prescribed Fire Council's inaugural meeting on April 10 will provide people with interests in prescribed burning — fire and fuels managers, natural resources specialists, private landowners, industry, air quality regulators, ranchers — to address a variety of issues. The council was founded in 2013 to address issues such as smoke management, worker training, legal liability and sharing of resources. Since the 1970s, such councils have been forming throughout the country, most recently in Washington and California.
"The opportunities and challenges in implementing prescribed fire are complex and in need of attention through collaboration," said Amanda Stamper, chair of the Oregon council. "Ecological restoration and wildfire hazard reduction often depend upon the application of fire after treatments such as thinning and mowing, particularly in the dry forests and rangelands east of the Cascades."
"Ultimately prescribed burning and wildfire management efforts need to focus on creating more resilient ecosystems and fire-adapted communities," said Timothy Ingalsbee of the Association for Fire Ecology, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to fire ecology research, education and management. "The sooner we learn how to work safely and live sustainably with wildland fire, the better."