Interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen is encouraging her charges to plan differently for future fire seasons, reported the Missoula Current.
“If we think what worked for us for the last 100 years is going to work for us the next 100 years, we might as well fold and go home because I don’t see success,” said Christiansen, who was named the agency’s interim leader in March.
In late May, Christiansen addressed hundreds of firefighters, scientists, and land managers from across the globe as a keynote speaker at the 24th annual Fire Continuum Conference at the University of Montana.
She explained the current issues — longer fire seasons, bigger and more severe fires, a warming climate, and more homes being built in the wildland-urban interface. But she also pointed out that almost a decade ago, agency wildfire experts set out to develop a new national strategy for dealing with the expanding threat. In 2014, they presented the cohesive strategy with three goals: restore healthy forests, create fire-adapted communities, and develop an effective, safe, risk-based response.
All three goals need to be achieved — and soon — preferably before the next megafire, said Christiansen.
Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) are finding ways to detect areas that are most vulnerable to spot fires by using embers from a handful of different trees to detect which ones burn the fastest, as well as how far the embers travel from their controlled burn sites.
“This last summer, we had the big fire up in the Gorge,” says OSU researcher David Blunck. “And we estimate that the fire jumped two miles across the river.”
That leap was due to embers that were carried miles from the tree — those traveling embers are what create profound wildfires.
OSU researchers are studying which trees generate the most embers. To do this, they are taking dried trees of different species from all over the state and setting them on fire to see where the embers fall and how many they can collect.
Next, they are bringing the embers back to the lab to test which trees form embers the fastest.
It turns out that Douglas fir burns the quickest.
As OSU researchers continue to learn more about varying reactions from embers, they will be sharing their findings with the U.S. Forest Service to help fire crews have a better understanding of where certain embers may fall.
Missoula County leaders and their partners in forest management and public safety have come up with a plan for the county and its residents to give them a fighting chance against wildfires.
The 2018 Community Fire Protection Plan, based in part on data from the horrific 2017 fires, has brought immediate praise from partners including private foresters, Montana DNRC, and the U.S. Forest Service.
“Identification of potential resources for funding and mitigation activities and the increase of our community awareness are important discussions around risk reduction for our residents and our emergency responders,” said Lolo National Forest District Ranger Jennifer Hensiek.
The plan sets out objectives to build more “fire-wise” communities, taking fire risk into account for planning and infrastructure development, especially in areas like Seeley Lake, and less restrictive measures to allow for logging and fuels reduction on steeper slopes.
Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden submitted a bipartisan letter in late May urging the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to include the Timber Innovation Act, which supports the development of mass timber products for building construction, in the next Farm Bill.
“We have been working to establish Oregon as a hub for mass timber products, using local timber and bolstering our forest products economy,” Merkley said. “This bill supports innovative manufacturing that creates jobs in the rural part of the state and encourages more sustainable tall wood building construction in urban parts of the state.”
“Oregon is leading the way in producing and engineering cross-laminated timber, which is revolutionizing the way our country constructs buildings,” Wyden said. “The Timber Innovation Act promotes job growth in Oregon’s timber counties and encourages the kind of Oregon entrepreneurship that can catapult our state’s economy to new heights.”
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