OSU Study Suggests Rate Of Severe Forest Fires To Increase

Apr 11, 2017

A new Oregon State University study shows forest fires have increased across the Pacific Northwest, with more severe blazes negatively affecting old growth forests.  KLCC’s Brian Bull reports.  

A 2013 forest fire near Glendale, Oregon.
Credit USDA / Flickr.com

Matthew Reilly is the lead author and post-doctoral researcher at OSU’s College of Forestry.  He says despite rising trends in fire activity, fires are affecting much less area due to aggressive fire suppression. 

Now a deficit of low and moderate severity fire may be threatening big, old trees.

Geographic variability in spatial patterns of burn severity from 1985 to 2010 in the Pacific Northwest. Burn severity is based on the percent of basal area mortality low (75%).
Credit Oregon State University

“The big threats potentially is that as these forests get denser with smaller trees, these big large old-growth Ponderosa Pine potentially are threatened by that increasing competition," Reilly tells KLCC.  

"And so there’s growing consensus that more low and moderate severity fires can help thin out some of those smaller trees that had grown out over the last 100 years, and potentially give those larger trees a break from all that competition.”

Reilly says a continued deficit of low and moderate severity fires – along with more drought – will likely mean more high severity fires to come.

The findings are in the March edition of Ecosphere. Besides OSU, other authors include the Forest Service and the University of Vermont. 

Copyright 2017, KLCC.