Webinar Series: Fire Ecology and Forest Resilience in the Pacific NW (2 of 8)
A Webinar Series by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement and the Washington Chapter of The Wildlife Society
When: Thursdays from 11:30 am to 12:00 noon Pacific Time (US and Canada)
March 7, 2024, through May 2, 2024 (excluding April 25)
Not fiery enough: Why the modern era of large wildfires in eastern Oregon and Washington actually needs more fire
Presented by Joshua Halofsky, WDNR.
Coauthors: Daniel Donato, Derek Churchill, Annie Smith (WDNR), Ryan Haugo (TNC), Alina Cansler (University of Montana), Brian Harvey (University of Washington)
Summary: Wildfires and fire seasons are commonly cast as good or bad based largely on the simple metric of area burned (more acres = bad). A seemingly paradoxical narrative frames large fire seasons as a symptom of a forest health problem (too much fire), while simultaneously stating that fire-dependent forests lack sufficient fire to maintain system resilience (too little fire). One key to resolving this paradox is placing contemporary fire years in the context of historical fire regimes, considering not only the total fire area but also how severely the fires burn. Historical regimes can also inform forest restoration efforts by illuminating how much fire area historically maintained (i.e., ‘treated’) fire-resilient landscapes. In this talk, I compare modern wildfire years in eastern Oregon and Washington to historical rates of burning (prior to widespread Euro-American arrival). Contrary to the common narrative of unprecedented or too-much fire in our dry forest landscapes today, modern fire years are only burning a small fraction of a typical historical year, when hundreds of thousands of acres are burned annually on average. With current forest restoration efforts also occurring at a fraction of historical fire ‘treatment’ rates, these findings highlight the potential need for managed fire to contribute if restoration and maintenance are to ultimately succeed. As such, ‘good’ fire years may be those not with less, but rather more, area burned – with characteristic severity and patch distributions, minimal clearly-negative impacts (e.g. loss of life and property), and contribution to forest restoration and maintenance objectives.