Fire summit brings experts together

In March 2018, Oregon State hosted the inaugural Fire Summit in Portland. This event aimed to identify viable forest management practices that could help mitigate the risks and impacts of high-severity fire events in the West.

About 30 scientists, land managers and forest policy experts were in attendance. They came from five states and British Columbia, and represented six universities, seven federal land management agency offices, departments or research units, four private forestland management entities, and two cities.

The summit closed with a call to action from Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

“It has been a great opportunity for us to reflect on the challenges our region has faced and the challenges to come, to share best practices, exchange data and research and discuss insights we learn from fighting wildfires,”

Brown said. She went on to discuss the prevalence of wildfire in the West and the risk to communities, economies and livelihoods. Brown said that collaborations – like the Fire Summit – will be key in preventing devastating wildfires.

“By taking an ‘all-lands, all-hands’ approach and committing to work together across jurisdictional boundaries, we can sustain robust rural economies and preserve our natural resources for future generations,” Brown said.

Anthony S. Davis, interim dean of the College of Forestry agrees, “The Western USA is home to the world’s leading scientists who focus on fire on our landscapes. The Fire Summit was a unique opportunity for those scientists to interact with the policymakers who are asking for guidance in addressing this phenomenal challenge.”

The collective remarks of the panelists and speakers offered a big-picture perspective of the intertwined views of fire in the West, from the variety of jurisdictions, landscapes and vegetation types, and cultural experiences and expectations.

The experts compiled their feedback and made specific recommendations:

• Expand strategic use of commercial thinning, prescribed fires, and managed wildfire as forest management tools.

• Improve coordination across jurisdictions and ownership boundaries.

• Develop and implement cross-boundary ‘pre-fire response’ plans and strategies.

• Address inequities associated with liability for cross-boundary fires.

• Invest in data mapping, risk assessment, and applied research that directly supports cross-boundary management and suppression.

Oregon State officials recognize discussions like this are critical for encouraging stakeholder engagement when it comes to wildfire issues.

Work is also underway to identify opportunities to directly and regularly inform federal elected officials and staff in Washington, D.C., about summit outcomes and subsequent efforts. Direct dialogue and discussion of the opportunities for real progress is an important goal of Summit participants seeking to inform policies designed to help mitigate the risks and impacts of high-severity fire events in the West.

“The scale of our fire problem is likely measured in decades and centuries, not a handful of years, and across millions of acres, not localized forests and landscapes,” says Davis. “To address this serious challenge, we have to step out of our own way and not go back to the false promise of landscape stability maintained through unsustainable practices. The Fire Summit served to bring the widest range of partners to the table for a first conversation in this direction.”

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