Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent for Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.  First appeared in Linn & Benton Extension July/August GROWING newspaper.

Wildfire is an accelerating problem across Oregon, with many potential impacts. One impact – smoke – can have many detrimental effects on communities including our physical and mental health, damaging our forest and agricultural industries, and slowing local economies.

Harmful smoke from wildfire happens somewhere in Oregon every year, and in years like last year, spares no part of the state.

Smoke filled sky outside of Albany, September 8, 2020. Photo Brad Withrow-Robinson
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Christin Buhl, Oregon Department of Forestry Entomologist

Western redcedar bark and fronds

From Oregon through western Canada, western redcedar (Thuja plicata, WRC) has been dying in areas where it should be thriving, such as along streams and within closed canopies. The cause for this sometimes sudden and expanding dieback is currently unknown. Insects and diseases of WRC are typically secondary, meaning that they are not direct tree killers but are opportunistic pests and can only attack dead and dying trees. Redcedar can even tolerate endemic levels of bark beetles and stem decay for many years. These known pests have not always been found in dieback pockets nor have novel pests been observed.

The predominant theory for sudden mortality is that trees may be impacted by a changing climate, including increasing average temperatures and drought stress in the form of reduced and inconsistent precipitation. Even shaded sites along streams are at risk due to higher than usual average temperatures and reduced stream flow. Western redcedar is a species more sensitive to slight changes in abiotic conditions and may be crossing the lower limits of where they can thrive in some areas.

Looking for the cause

A team including Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), Washington Department of Natural Resources (WADNR), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), various university researchers and natural resource agencies are collaborating to collect locations to determine the distribution and possible cause(s) of dieback. We are mapping locations of dieback and monitoring some of these sites over the long-term.

We are now asking for your help in identifying sites of where dieback and tree decline is occurring. We are looking for pockets of dieback containing at least two mature trees with any of the following symptoms:

Do not report sites where the cause of dieback is known (e.g., mechanical damage, single sun-exposed trees, decadent old growth candelabra crowns or symptomatic trees in known root disease pockets) or trees with normal, seasonal dieback of older needles rather than whole-branch mortality.

Lastly, western redcedar may be confused with the other two species that we call “cedar”: incense cedar and Port Orford cedar (none are true cedar, which do not occur naturally in the PNW).The easiest way to identify western redcedar is by looking at the cones.

Western redcedar produces cones that look like woody roses, incense cedar has larger cones that split open like duck bills, and Port Orford cedar has cones that resemble soccer balls. Assist us in this effort to understand what is happening with this majestic staple of Pacific Northwest forests and urban areas.

Are you seeing these symptoms on western redcedar in your area? We need your help locating and reporting dying and symptomatic WRC across the species distribution!

Please submit GPS locations of western redcedar dieback: Christine Buhl, ODF Entomologist in Oregon (

Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent for Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.

It is shaping up to be another dry year.  Writing this in mid-month, we have seen unusually dry air and winds, creating fire conditions not usually seen until early summer.  We will likely see temperatures in the 80s and are under red-flag warnings last weekend.  In mid-April!   We could luck out, and get some serious precipitation in the next few weeks, but don’t count on it. 

We know “you can’t change the weather”.  But there are a few things under our control.  Here are some things to do in the face of a dry year.

Fire Prevention

ODF reports an unusually high number of fire starts this month.  The main cause has been back yard debris burns. 

Hold burnpiles until a safter time

A thing to do:  Do not set any debris fires this season (unless we get a significant weather change).  Instead, plan to cover piles and wait burn this fall after the rains start. 

Another thing to do:  Tell your neighbors about your choice to not burn now, and encourage them to do the same.  After all, an escaped burn next door is a very threatening fire.

Yet another thing to do:  Start taking fire season precautions now when working in the woods.  Carry your fire tools while working in the woods, doing storm clean up.  “Better late than never” not a good strategy here.

Fire Preparedness

The Labor Day fires created an awareness among residents of western Oregon about the potential of major fires.  The Extension Fire Program has created Fire Aware.  Fire Prepared., a 7-part series to help individuals and communities begin the work of being better prepared for wildfire.

A thing to do:  Watch the webinar series.  It is underway, and all previous sessions are available by recording at the Fire Program’s Online webinar guide. .

Another Thing to do: Take the preparedness actions presented in a to do list at the end of each session.  These include actions to harden your home against fire, as well as beginning to coordinate with neighbors.

Yet another thing to do:  That thing about coordinating with neighbors.  Encourage your neighbors to watch the Fire Aware. Fire Prepared. webinar series and begin a neighborhood planning process.


This is likely to be rough year for new plantings. Effective weed control will likely be more important than ever.  There may still time to touch up your weed control around your seedlings. Some weed control resources are here.   

Keep an eye on weed competion. It sneaks up on you!

A thing to do:  Check the weed situation in young plantings if you have them.  Treat if needed.  Be careful if using herbicides, as seedlings become more sensitive to spray when they come out of dormancy, as described in this post

Fire wood

As you do your winter storm clean up and piling remember that this is an excellent time to make firewood.  Firewood is best dried quickly, so early summer is great.  Unlike those precious boards you mill up for a “future project” which should be gently dried, firewood benefits from harsh drying conditions.

A thing to do: Cut wood early in the season and stack it loosely to catch the dry summer breeze.  This timely effort will help it dry quickly and burn cleaner in the winter.

A supply of dry wood can give satisfaction in many ways

By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry and Natural Resources Extension – Benton, Linn and Polk Counties

Photo Glenn Ahrens.

First the fires, now the ice!

The Willamette Valley and foothills suffered another blow last weekend.  The unusual and wide spread winter ice storm took down trees, took out power and disrupted life all across the region.  Impacts include many urban and residential areas, as well as forested areas.

People are still surveying the damage and beginning clean up.  As you consider what to do, please remember the warnings of the dangers involved, and use caution to protect yourself and others.  Just in my neighborhood alone, I have seen several unadvised and frightening uses of chainsaws!

Photo Glenn Ahrens

Broken and tangled branches create many hazards, including saw kick-back and movement of wood.  Limbs may be bent and under extreme tension, loaded like giant springs that can snap back powerfully when cut.  Many broken branches remain hanging in trees and can be shaken free by wind or when cutting other branches.  Please use extreme caution when clearing limbs, and respect your own limits of skill and experience and follow Ann Landers advice to “seek professional help”.

Here are some resources:

Safely responding to storm-related tree damage

First Aid for Storm-Damaged Trees (University of Missouri Extension)

Caring for Storm Damaged Trees (Colorado State Forest Service)

Safe and Effective Use of Chain Saws for Woodland Owners

Damage in Clackams County. Photo Glenn Ahrens.

OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension.

As reported here earlier , OSU Extension Service has a new statewide fire program to help create a better understanding of fire through education and outreach efforts.  The Program has six regional fire specialist positions to work with partners to help facilitate large-scale, cross-boundary management practices.  Four regional fire specialists came on board last fall, and the final two arrived just last month! 

Here is the rest of the roster.

Aaron Groth joins us as Regional Fire Specialist for the Coast Fire Service Area based in Astoria.  Aaron joins us from the University of Texas in Austin, Texas where he was a Graduate Fellow in the Department of Geography and the Environment, focused on landscape ecology and management, forest conservation, biogeography, and integrated watershed studies.  Aaron is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, and worked in the areas of agroforestry and reforestation in the Andes Mountains of Peru.  He later served as Environmental Management Volunteer Coordinator and as a Community Conservation Specialist for the Upper Amazon Conservancy (Peru).  Aaron has extensive experience working with indigenous communities and is fluent in Spanish. 

Aaron’s service area includes the Coast Range bordering  the Willamette Valley, so will join a local team including fire specialist Amanda Rau, and county agents Glenn Ahrens, Lauren Grand and Brad Withrow-Robinson.

John Rizza joins us as Regional Fire Specialist for the Northeast Fire Service Area based in LaGrande.  John was recently Ranch Manager in Terrebonne, Oregon, where he managed a 1,700 acre property including active forestry and agricultural operations. He brings a mix of professional  Ag and Forestry positions in the West, including seven years with the Colorado State University Extension Service and credentials as a Wilderness First Responder, a Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner, Type 2 Wildland Firefighter. 

Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent for Benton, Linn & Polk Counties

Among the many challenges facing landowners affected by the 2020 wildfires will be reforestation.  One of the top issues will be tree seedling availability: Seedlings are in very short supply now, and it is likely to remain that way for several years. 

The shortage is partly a demand issue.  The wildfires affected about 350,000 acres of private forestland to varying degrees.  That includes 70,000 acres owned by about 1,000 family forest landowners.  This means about four million additional seedlings are now needed above the expected demand created by regularly planned harvest and reforestation.  Everything that is already in the production pipeline has already been absorbed.

The shortage will also be a production issue.  There are limits how quickly seedlings can be grown (typically 1-3 years) and most importantly, there are limits on capacity at every step in the production & planting process such as greenhouse space, nursery workers and cold storage.  Clearly, a coordinated approach is needed to address this.

Nursery production is an intensive operation

OSU Extension is working with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Small Woodlands Association, nursery producers and other partners to develop extra capacity needed to produce, deliver and plant seedlings in response to this problem.

Issues to be addressed include:

  • Determining the need for seedlings (by area, elevation, species).
  • Nursery production capacity which may be limited by both infrastructure and labor.
  • Storage and distribution logistics. 
  • Planting labor force capacity

At this time, we are still trying to measure and map the need for seedlings.  If you are a landowner affected by the 2020 wildfires needing to plant trees in the future(or know someone who is), we want to hear from you. Please follow this link and fill in our seedling needs survey. This will put on you a mailing list and we will get back in touch with you with details as they develop. 

If you need help with this, please contact the Linn County Extension office 541-967-3871 or email

Brad Withrow-Robinson, Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent for Benton, Linn & Polk Counties.

The Labor Day fires clearly illustrated that we can and we do have wildfires in western Oregon.  Few have the ferocity of last year’s fires, but they are not unprecedented.  There is abundant evidence of massive fires in both the ecological and historical records. Fire has been, is, and will continue to be part of life here in western Oregon.

The Labor Day fires should have made millions of people around the Willamette Valley aware of that.  We also learned that fire is not limited to rural areas.  Firestorms can invade small towns and also urban areas. The cities of Molalla, Oregon City, Springfield, Pacific City and Medford were all under some level of evacuation advisory in September.  Smoke can lay siege to any community.

We see now that fire preparedness is everyone’s responsibility.

Have the Labor Day fires changed your thinking?  Have you taken steps since the fires to make yourself and your family better prepared?  I hope so.  We all need to take steps individually and with neighbors to help prepare ourselves, and our communities, for fires and smoke.  Being ready for every “next” fire season needs to become a sustained part of our western Oregon lifestyle.

Let us help.  OSU Extension along with many state and local agencies and community partners will be launching a Fire Preparedness campaign in spring 2021. Please watch for more information and plan to participate and learn how to protect yourself and your family from future fire emergencies.  In the meantime, take the self-quiz below.

Your Fire Preparedness Quiz:

  • Do you have an emergency “Go Bag”?
  • Do other family members know where it is?
  • Have you and your family discussed evacuation plans? 
  • Do you know the 3 emergency Evacuation Levels, understand their meaning and actions implied?
  • Are you prepared to protect yourselves from wildfire smoke?

OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension.

As many readers are aware, Oregon State University Extension Service has implemented a new statewide fire program to help create a better understanding of fire through education and outreach efforts.

The Oregon Legislature funded the program two years ago.  It is part of the OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Program and the College of Forestry. 

When fully staffed, the Fire Program will have a program manager, a state fire specialist, and six regional fire specialists posted around the state. The regional specialists will work with partners to help facilitate large-scale, cross-boundary management practices.

Four regional fire specialists were hired over the summer, and came on board in the last two months. They join the team led by Carrie Berger, the Fire Program Manager, and will work closely with Dan Leavell, Statewide Extension Fire Specialist.  We hope to hire two additional team members for the Oregon Coast Range and Northeast Oregon regions soon, as budgets allow.

Amanda Rau is the specialist for the Willamette Valley and Cascades fire service area, which includes much of Linn, Benton and Polk Counties.

Amanda Rau, OSU Extension Willamette Valley and Cascades fire service area specialist. Photo B Withrow-Robinson

Amanda is based in the Lane County Extension office in Eugene. She joins us from The Nature Conservancy where she worked for the past five years as the Fire Manager in both Oregon and Washington. She has robust experience in fire-adapted ecosystem restoration and conservation; prescribed fire and fuels treatment planning and implementation; and training, outreach, communications, and engagement. Amanda is a passionate and effective leader of collaborative projects and partnerships and has worked endlessly for social license for responsible management of fire for public safety and resource management. Amanda earned a Masters of Natural Resources in Fire Ecology and Management from the University of Idaho.   Amanda brings great skills to our area. Welcome Amanda!

Chris Adlam is serving the Southwest fire service area, based at the Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center in Central Point.

Ariel Cowan is serving the Central fire service area, housed at the Deschutes County Extension office in Redmond.

Katherine Wollstein is serving the Southeast fire service area with an emphasis on range issues, housed at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Burns.

Welcome to them all!  Our new Fire Program has been very active in response to the Labor Day fires of 2020, and will be working with local OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agents and partners to help improve fire preparedness and resilience in communities across Oregon in coming months and years.

Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, Benton, Linn & Polk Counties.

The Labor Day fires’ impacts will be felt throughout region, well beyond the footprint of the fires.  It will likely be harder for family forest landowners to find contractors, seedlings and other resources to get projects done on their property for a while, wherever they are.   Why? The fires are already putting demands on local resources and infrastructure. This includes loggers and logging equipment, mill capacity, and the ODF Stewardship Foresters who are overseeing many post fire responses.  We can also expect to see other resources tested for the next several years, including seedling availability and nursery capacity to produce them. Shortages of many of these shared resources will be felt across much of state as assets are reassigned or moved around. Recovery will take time. 

Fire Preparedness

Three Zones of Defensible Space. Image from:

Not surprisingly, we are also getting calls about preventing and preparing for wildfire.  The new Fire Program will coordinate our work to expand public fire preparedness and smoke readines. These will be the emphasis of our program next spring.  We will work with key partners including Oregon Department of Forestry, County governments, local Fire Districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil & Water Conservation Districts and Watershed Councils among others. There is need toprepare at the home, community and landscape level.

In the meantime, begin your journey at the Fire Program website (  Under the Fire Adapted Communities banner, follow the links to “Before a Wildfire”, and “During a Wildfire” to start learning how to prepare.  Also, look at the section on Landscape-scale Land Management, which is how we start needing to look at and address fire preparedness. 

Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.

This season’s wildfires have been devastating to western Oregon. 

I recognize the suffering this has brought to so many individuals and communities.  The fires affected many individuals and communities in our reading area and adjacent counties. 

Many groups and agencies continue to muster information and resources to help people rebound from the fires. Each group or agency is focusing on its area of responsibility and strength, while coordinating with others for the most effective response possible.  The effort stretches from the needs of individual landowners to landscape issues that will affect water quality, infrastructure, public safety and forest recovery.

Extension’s Post Fire Response

Among the organizations responding is OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension, through its new statewide Fire Program.

Our immediate emphasis has been helping people with forestlands and related natural resources impacted by the fires. If that includes you or people you know, please visit the Fire Program website where you will find a series of webinars addressing key post-fire issues: 

  • After the Fire – Now what?
  • Hazard tree awareness and erosion in post-fire landscapes
  • Assessing tree mortality and salvage logging
  • Reforestation and restoration
  • Tax issues relating to fire

The series has concluded, but all webinars were recorded. You can find them, as well as companion resources on the topic at the Fire Program Online Webinar Guide .

Other resources including an interactive website to help landowners navigate issues, programs and agencies relating to the fire issues are in the works.    Stay tuned.