Forestry experts call for smart, inclusive solutions to fires

Wildfires

Societal decisions have intensified wildfires, experts said

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon wildfires are getting more extreme.

Experts at Oregon State University said all Oregonians have a stake in forest management — and we will have to learn to live with wildfires.

Like tsunamis and earthquakes, wildfires are inevitable, experts said.

What needs to change, researchers said, is the framework of how we see fires — less as preventable, more as manageable. It’s time to focus on solutions together, they said.

James Johnston is a research associate in the College of Forestry at OSU. As a society, he said, we’ve made the decision to exclude fire from forests that are designed to burn. Forestry experts said that decision has allowed fuel to accumulate, exacerbating future wildfires.

“We’ve made the decision to have forest fires, and we can’t take that decision back,” he said. “Now, our challenge is to learn to live with fires.”

Human actions have also enriched the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, or CO2, which has locked us in to a hotter and drier future, Johnston said.

Johnston said we live in a part of the country meant to burn — the difference is the severity.

Decisions we make now are whether or not to manage forests, reduce density and remove surface fuels with prescribed burns.

Johnston added Oregonians need to start making smart legislative decisions about forest management.

Erica Fisher is an assistant professor in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at OSU. She said wildfire destruction can only be solved by an approach where land management agencies work with local government and homeowners.

She said many communities that are impacted the most by fires do not have the resources to help themselves — and that’s where legislation comes in.

“I don’t mean to be pessimistic about this that we’d need to legislate our way out of it,” Fisher said. “How do we force people to mitigate and spend a lot of money when they don’t have resources?”

That’s what Senate Bill 762 which was passed in July is doing. SB 762 created a committee of key stakeholders to map potential wildfires and find communities at high risk.

The bill will bring in experts like the researchers at OSU to discuss solutions with the committee.

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