Necessity of Prescribed Burning
ORS 477.005 (Policy) declares that the public policy of the State of Oregon is to preserve forests “through the prevention and suppression of forest fires.” Prescribed burning is an important tool used to reduce forest fuels, re-introduce fire on the landscape, and has been demonstrated to reduce the potential for a fire to start or reduce its severity. It has also been demonstrated that fire suppression actions are more effective and lower in cost in areas with a recent history of burning.
As a part of the natural ecology of forestlands, wildfire is neither necessarily good nor bad. In fire-dependent ecosystems, frequent wildfire serves to limit spread of subsequent fires. However, there are a number of undesirable characteristics of unplanned, uncontrolled fires. Among these are threats to public safety, destruction of natural resources and property, and the adverse health effects that can occur from breathing a significant amount of fine particulate matter associated with wildfire smoke.
When areas do not experience fire or other means of reducing forest fuels for extended periods, wildfire hazard increases. The likelihood increases if unplanned ignitions occur, through whatever means, the resulting wildfire will burn at greater intensity and be more difficult to suppress.
Because wildfires typically burn during hotter, drier conditions than those usually planned for prescribed fires, forest fuels are more completely consumed, producing more emissions. Also, wildfires often occur during periods of atmospheric stability, trapping smoke close to the ground where it’s more likely to impact humans.
Prescribed burning is an important forest management technique in all of Oregon’s forests to reduce forest fuels for the purposes of both short term and long term fire prevention and to aid in fire suppression. Prescribed burning is typically conducted when weather conditions allow fine fuels to readily ignite while larger fuels are consumed to a lesser degree than in a wildfire. Resulting emissions are reduced and dissipated quickly, before affecting populated areas.
When forest fuel reduction can be achieved economically without using prescribed burning, that choice is usually favored. Even so, there are often silvicultural or agricultural advantages to prescribed burning such as site preparation, nutrient cycling and reduction of pests and disease that may not be achieved by simply removing the forest fuels. For all these reasons described above, the Legislative Assembly (ORS 477.552 (Policy)) and Board of Forestry have found it necessary to maintain prescribed burning as a forest management practice.