Living in a Land of Fire

Only you can prepare for fire resilient communities!

The fires that swept through Oregon in September touched us all, making this hard year even harder. As people struggle to make meaning of these disasters, we are asking “How can we stop such fires from happening again?”  

The honest answer is: we can’t. Large, weather-driven fires have always been a part of this landscape. The combination of a longer dry season with more erratic wind patterns from climate change will result in more and larger fires. Many people (especially politicians) don’t like this answer. However, we need this answer because it frees us to focus on the real issue which is not, “How do we prevent fire?” but rather, “How do we prepare for fire?”  

We need to change the policies that are still embedded in the culture of fire suppression to reflect what has always been true: This is a land of fire and we need to learn to live with it.

against a backdrop of blackened trees, new lime green growth springs forth from the forest floor

New growth springs up from the forest floor after the 36 Pit Fire burn, 2015.

The way forward is no mystery. Shifting the focus from suppression to preparedness requires changing our approach at every level—from private homes to the federal government—to better help individuals, communities, and ecosystems become more resilient to the fire and smoke of the future. No amount of logging would have stopped this summer’s fires and it’s time to stop pouring resources into false solutions.

This is why Bark is working to change the Forest Plan and update it from a 1980’s mandate requiring full fire suppression of all ignitions. Bark works with the Wasco County Forest Collaborative to promote prescribed fire on the east side where fire has been long excluded. Bark is also working with allies across the state and region to shift government policy towards protecting homes and communities, while addressing smoke as a public health issue.

And positive changes are happening. The Forest Service is currently planning a non-commercial project to remove small trees and reintroduce fire on 2,430 acres in the Tygh River watershed. It’s a good idea! In a major policy shift, Senator Wyden recently signed on as a co-sponsor of the Wildfire Defense Act, which focuses on preparing communities rather than increasing logging. Media stories coming out of September's fires discuss climate change and recognize that logging is not the solution.

Bark is at the forefront of shedding light on fire-positive land management and policy, not just for Mt. Hood National Forest, but for the region and your donation makes that possible. 

Support these efforts with your donation.

Changing culture takes continued effort, vision, and a willingness to adapt. The current stories that label fire as destructive to forests are counterproductive and distract from the failure to prepare for fire by making homes and towns more firewise. So much still needs to change, and the next time large fires come again, we will be there to help ensure that our homes will be safer, our communities more prepared, and our ecosystem more resilient to its transformative power.

For the forests,

     Brenna Bell, Bark Policy Coordinator/Staff Attorney

P.S. Register for this year's virtual People’s Forest Forum: Exploring Change! More details to follow.