Fire suppression, drought increasing mortality among trees

Environment
Wildfires Thinning Forests_1559237881759

This Sept. 27, 2017, photo shows charred trunks of Ponderosa pines near Sisters, Ore., months after a prescribed burn removed vegetation, smaller trees and other fuel ladders last spring. The thinning of forests in central Oregon has saved homes amid one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in the American West. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

BEND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon State University forester says dry winters and long periods of drought, combined with fire suppression, are affecting the health of Central Oregon trees.

Nicole Strong, a forestry and natural resources extension agent for OSU, described an increased amount of tree mortality – including junipers – in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.

The Bulletin reports that Strong says junipers on the High Desert have become more fragile in recent decades, thanks to fire suppression policy. Periodic fires thin forests and improve the health of existing trees. When fires do not occur, forest density increases, resulting in more competition for water and space to grow.

The tree deaths have also been noticed by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages thousands of acres of juniper woodlands in Central Oregon. Deschutes Field Manager Jeff Kitchens described dying junipers in the High Desert between the Bend Airport and Powell Butte, as well as Crooked River Ranch.

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