In late June 2019, the Oregon Legislature approved the establishment of a new Oregon State Wildland Fire Extension Program, to be led by Forestry & Natural Resources Extension and the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.
The ultimate goal is to build wildfire resistance and resilience into our rural landscapes and wildland-urban interface areas. This initiative was inspired by the innovative work of Extension Agent Daniel Leavell with the Klamath and Lake County Forest Health Partnership as a model for expanded effort statewide. A publication outlining their collaborative process, including curriculum for carrying out similar landscape-scale planning, was published in October 2018.
This new Wildland Fire program will add capacity for up to six new OSU Extension Wildfire Specialists to work with agency and industry partners, communities, landowners, and land managers. The work to be done is too big for any one organization, but by leading partnerships and working together we plan to make a real impact on the ground, spreading land management and fuel reduction projects over the Oregon landscape.
We need this extra effort as the risk of destructive wildfires is increasing in Oregon and across the West due to growth in the wildland-urban interface, increasing frequency of severe fire weather, and increasing forest fuel loads. We cannot be complacent in thinking that the problem is “won’t happen in our neighborhood” or that it is beyond our control.
It is a landscape-level problem, but it is not totally beyond our control. There is much that we can do to change fire behavior and reduce destructiveness of fire. Success depends on:
- Understanding fire science and fire behavior.
- Managing forest fuels.
- Getting people to work together across boundaries.
So what's next? We will be looking for high-priority places in Oregon to pursue landscape-scale efforts with willing partners. Wherever we can get enough of the key partners to work together, we can greatly reduce damage and losses to communities and ecosystems using our collective knowledge, skills, and tools.