Visiting Scholars: Post-fire Management Strategies in the PNW

Dr. Manuel Esteban Lucas Borja

Visiting scholar Dr. Manuel Esteban Lucas Borja spent 3 months at the Corvallis campus studying the impacts of severe summer fires on hydrology.

This summer, Dr. Manuel Esteban Lucas Borja joined the OSU college of Forestry to study post-fire management strategies in PNW forests. From his home institution Universidad de Castilla la Mancha in south-eastern Spain, Dr. Borja’s work focuses on responses to wildfire from both people and ecosystems alike, measuring the impact of severe summer fires on hydrology. Collaboration with OSU brings necessary funding, resources, and knowledge exchanged between countries.

Summer fires in the PNW aren’t too different from the fires in Spain, as they face similar problems with fuel accumulation and high heat as a result of the changing climate. Dry periods cause fire to eat up the abundant fuel that’s accumulated in our forests due to a lack of management and burns through forests faster than they can recover.

“Under [a] natural fire regime, fire makes an ecological evolution and is good for the ecosystem. Where the species are able to adapt— are adapted, in fact, to this natural wildfire”.

Dr. Borja

Fire is a natural ecosystem driver, but the combination of absent forest management and climate change has exacerbated its role and proven to be more disastrous than restorative.

Part of the issue is the lack of available tools. Unlike the U.S., Spain lacks distinct Indigenous groups with Traditional Ecological Knowledge about their home ecosystems. The importance of Indigenous fire stewardship in the U.S. cannot be overstated, as long-standing knowledge of forest management provides the foundation for modern management practices. These tools aren’t just valuable here, as they apply to the forests of Spain equally. Spanish forests have been victim to similar fire suppression policies that have devastated forests across the U.S., leading to an accumulation of fuels that, paired with higher temperatures, lead to greater fire severity. Dr. Borja’s work aims to bridge the resource gap, exchanging knowledge and work across countries as the need for sustainable, future-minded forest management plans becomes increasingly dire. From tools, to methodology, to knowledge, international collaboration goes beyond borders to bring together professionals from around the world to work towards a common goal.

Dr. Borja specifically looks at the movement of water through the soil profile following wildfire. In collaboration with Kevin Bladon, he conducted field work across Oregon and Washington that examined soil conditions through soil samples and water potential sensors. Water is an essential but easily overlooked part of the ecosystem and our lives. Post-fire management strategies bring in a bit of the new and a bit of the old that reflect current goals for restoration but may overlook certain vital elements of an ecosystem, like the soil water that allows vegetation to regenerate.

“Most of my research is with water quality, runoff after wildfire, and water harvesting after wildfire. But now there is a clear connection with water quality… every forest management you apply is affecting this water quality and water quantity. On top of this ecosystem services is our society and our society’s wellbeing”.

Dr. Borja

H.J Andrews Experimental Forest, one of the sites Dr. Borja worked in

What came as a shock was the stark contrast between protected and commercial forests. In the U.S., forest management plans tend to fall on either side of two extremes that work towards opposing ends goals, while in Spain forest management aims to create a balance between the two. “One of the things I was surprised about here is you have two kinds of management. One is really for economic purposes, so it’s intensive forest management. They cut down all trees and then planting, cut down, planting. And then on the opposite side you have protection. No cutting, no silviculture–or close to nature silviculture. It’s like two opposite sides.” Privatization of natural resources and the fight between private and public land ownership are points of contention well known in the U.S., but it doesn’t have to be like that. Sustainable forest management strategies benefit all parties, from the trees in the forest, to wildlife who rely on forests for habitat, to the people who rely on forest economically.

Thank you to Dr. Borja and Universidad de Castilla la Mancha for this collaboration. Through the hard work of researchers around the world, we can improve forest management for the common good. We’re excited to continue collaborating with universities in Spain and around the world.

Interested in Visiting OSU as a Research Scholar?

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