Prescribed Fire at ScalePresented by Dana Skelly

The Malheur National Forest, at the southern edge of the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, is dominated by forest types which historically had very frequent, low-severity fires. Current research shows a fire return interval of 12-28 years even in moist mixed conifer stands. Dry forest types account for approximately 1 million acres on the Malheur and have been at the frequent end of this range. Freely extrapolating, this translates to treating 83,000 acres per year in dry forest types alone to approximate the historic range of variability (HRV). Yet we average just under 6,000 acres of burning each year, and approximately 13,000 footprint acres treated in total per year. This will not do.

This scenario is not uncommon across forests in the western US. It begs two questions. How do we:

  • Complete the landscape scale burning we have committed to in our NEPA?
  • Meet forest plan and national cohesive wildland fire strategy—pay me now to avoid the pay me later scenario?

In Dana’s presentation, she explored efficiencies that have begun to be implemented on the Malheur as well as explore examples from other regions that offer ideas for constructive paths forward. These three documents provide a deeper context for the topics covered in this presentation. The paper by Hiers is an in-depth look at one approach to prioritizing treatment areas considering ecological factors as well as fire risk. The FTEA document is the report from an in-depth look at the fuels treatments that were impacted by the 2015 Canyon Creek Complex. The paper by Cohen (now Skelly) offers insights into managing fire, both planned and unplanned ignitions.

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